Cathy Callow-Heusser: Learn more about our immigration laws

(Rudy Gutierrez | The El Paso Times via AP file) Protesters walk along Montana Avenue outside the El Paso Processing Center in El Paso, Texas, in June 2018.

We are helping a family that is seeking asylum in the United States. This family entered the U.S. at the border with Mexico to escape prosecution and threats in their own country. They were given permission to apply for asylum.

Of course, they weren’t granted a work permit, housing or a means to survive. Like so many others who don’t have family in the U.S. with whom they can live, they ended up in a homeless shelter, where the father was beaten by others living there.

No ability to pay for medical costs. No work permit to legally earn money to pay for medical costs and living expenses. No understanding of our system -- especially medical care, which is relatively inexpensive in Mexico. Only the hope that the U.S. government might grant asylum.

Last week, I attended their immigration hearing. Judge Christopher Greer was thorough, fair and gentle. He applied our laws without demeaning this family. While the outcome of their case is not what they had hoped for, I appreciated seeing the process and feeling some comfort that the situation was handled appropriately. They will appeal the decision, which gives them 1.5 years to gather sufficient evidence.

The bar for being granted asylum is very high. Families must prove they are in danger in their own countries, that they were prosecuted or injured or faced death prior to coming here, and that there is a high likelihood of harm if they return. So many hear stories about the US being the land of opportunity that values immigrants. But there’s few avenues even for those who are willing to work very hard and who live in fear in their home countries.

So, no work permit, ankle bracelets to track location, lots of money they need to raise before returning to immigration court, lots of invisible walls that they have to navigate without sufficient knowledge or information or ability to communicate.

While I am sad for them, I also saw an immigration process that was respectful. That seemed fair. That provides an opportunity to gather evidence. That places the burden of proof on the family seeking asylum, where it should be.

Is the experience I had the same for all refugees? I don’t know. Media might suggest otherwise. And there was some information in their documentation that I question — information that the father of the family vehemently denied in court under oath. Information that makes me wonder if a border agent was honest. Sadly, there’s no way to know, but that information greatly damages this family’s case.

I urge everyone to attend an immigration court. See what really goes on. Understand the rules better. Participate in our system of laws and their enforcement to understand what works and what doesn’t. It might be eye-opening. It will certainly increase your knowledge, if not your empathy.

We should all be required to understand our immigration and court systems better. It would make us a more informed citizenry — a citizenry that understands what freedom and the right to live in the U.S. costs.

Cathy Callow-Heusser

Cathy Callow-Heusser, Ph.D., Park City, is CEO and co-founder of Betterment Labs LLC, a software development company based in Park City.