© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Asylum Angels; Easing Their Path to a New Life

Kurt Holtz

People seeking lawful asylum in this country face overwhelming obstacles.  Nonetheless, they choose to come here.  But that’s far from the end of their journey. Sponsored by family or friends, many travel hundreds of miles by bus to join them all over the country. 

In Roanoke, where they change buses, tired, often hungry and frightened, two women are there to greet them at the station and to remind them that people here care about them.          


“When I found out they were coming through here, it was impossible for me not to come,” says Tara Orlando. “I was feeling very helpless watching what was happening and unable to do anything. And now here they are right in my own backyard! There's no way I'm going to sit back and not do something." When she found out that the major bus route for asylum seekers stopped in Roanoke for passengers to change buses, she decided to meet those buses at the station.

"So, in February is when I started keeping records. I started meeting the buses in December, but in February, I noticed that I personally fed 84 travelers that were coming through,in March, it was 204.
And at the end of March, I decided I needed help because it was more than I could do by myself. And so, I started the Facebook group and then, immediately we had over 30 people that joined.” And the numbers kept growing to more than five hundred people in 23 bus meets, and it keeps growing. More and more people are now helping with the efforts.

The buses don’t run every day, so it’s a series of contacts along the route, that lets them know, asylum seekers are coming. On this sweltering Saturday, Orlando and Tindal Snyder have gotten word from ---let’s call it, the ‘asylum railroad’ that a bus in coming in.  They pack a Mazda with food, water, toys, clothes, shoes, handmade quilts and other items for the people who will make on a short stop in the noisy station. 

A mom with 2 boys and a girl are the only asylum seekers today. They get off the but and look around, and immediately a woman they’ve never met is handing their mother clothes, food and water.  With Shy smiles on their faces, neatly dressed, the kids hang back at first --no one in the family speaks English. Snyder beckons them over to the piles of snacks and suitcases of clothes, and they go right for the toys.  With all that noise in the bus station, they wouldn’t have been able to hear much Snyder said, even without the language barrier, nonetheless, they ‘conversed’ for a good 15 minutes.

REPORTER: “You looked so happy talking with those kids." “Yeah. I mean I couldn't, I don't know any Spanish. We couldn't really speak to each other. But you know, toys are a pretty a international language. We could connect over that, regardless of the fact that I didn't know the words for any of the toys and cat say meow in Spanish too, apparently.” 

Tara Orlando is fluent in Spanish and talks with their mother, speaking quickly and intensely, trying to hear and share as much as possible during this short stop over. “She didn't spend time in the ‘dog house’” which gets its name because it’s a holding tank that resembles a dog pound, “but she did spend time in the coolers. They call it the cooler or the freeze because the temperature is kept at 50 degrees and the lights are on very bright 24/ seven. REPORTER: What else did she say? “She said that she was in Mexico at the border waiting for almost a month before they let her come through. REPORTER: So where was she staying there? She was on the street. REPORTER: “And the kids too?” “Yeah.” REPORTER: “And in general, what was her reaction when she figured out what you were doing?” She started crying and then-- that's, that's what it's all about,” Orlando said, fighting and failing to hold back tears.  “Just letting them know they're human beings."

In addition to the food, over the counter medicine, food, toys and clothes, they bring, what they also bring is a message. “That we care and that we love them and that we're glad they're here. And to me it's really important to, try to hug as many of them as possible.’

Orlando wants to create a community for asylum seekers

“It actually came to me in a dream and the dream repeated.” She tells me. “So, my dream was, that we built a space, that was a very large building that had showers and, and um, well two sections. And then we built small cabins around the property so that people could live there while they're waiting for their asylum hearing.”

In her dream, Orlando says see a very precise dollar figure, 3 and a half million dollars – donated, by guitarist, Carlos Santana.

“And we're looking for specific demographics to come and live with us here. People interested in organic food production in animal husbandry, artists, all genres, painters, potters, musicians, actors, whatever, and builders, people that'll help us to build. So that we can continue this project and they'll also complement our community. So, um, I feel it's a good exchange. And, right now our group has over 400 members and I'm, just very impressed with the quality of people that are seriously interested in helping us go forward. 

She says Habitat for Humanity has expressed interest in the project.

“There’s so much love in, there's so much kindness in this country. We just mainly hear about all the bad, negative things happening, but there's a lot of good stuff going on and a lot of people care. A lot more people care than don't. And that's very encouraging and it's wonderful to see.

To contact Floyd Friends of Asylum Seekers clickhere.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.