Learning to weld while awaiting hearing: one Project Home asylum seeker’s story

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Abbe Hamilton / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Mexican asylum seeker Luis is learning welding skills from Phaze Welding in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/27/2021 6:47:14 PM

On a hot day in early August, Luis was constructing a metal food preparation table at the Phaze Welding Technology Center in Peterborough. The project showcased the metalworking skills he’d acquired over the past six weeks, and it was intended as a gift for his wife as they and their three children prepared to move into an apartment of their own. The move was a significant milestone for the family since they first arrived in the Monadnock region last year through the Keene-based nonprofit Project Home.

Project Home was founded in 2019 to provide support to families and individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries as they await their asylum hearings, a process that can take years, Project Home volunteer David Blair said. “An asylum seeker is here legally, but doesn’t have a long-term right to stay,” he said. Project Home provides the housing, legal, medical, educational, and other support asylum seekers may need while awaiting their hearing. If their hearing results in an approved asylum, they can apply for U.S. permanent resident status, and eventually citizenship. “We are not in control of that, but at least we can provide them a welcoming and safe home for the duration until their cases are heard and decided,” Blair said.

Luis’s family fled violence in Mexico, Blair said; their last name is being withheld to avoid potentially triggering retaliatory violence. “I was a rancher,” Luis said, while working on his table’s frame. He has a degree in cattle systems engineering, and owned cows, calves, and horses in Mexico. He said he never thought his family would have to leave their home.

It’s been a lot of hard work to start over, but Luis said he’s grateful for the generous people who have helped them since they arrived in the Monadnock Region in early February 2020.

Luis’s family is one of the five asylum-seeking families and individuals supported by Project Home. Each is initially placed with a host family, Blair said, and all have access to “extraordinary” volunteer support by lawyers, dentists, doctors, drivers, tutors, and vocational trainers who coordinate to meet each person’s unique needs. “Our budget is not huge and our needs have not been huge yet, thanks to in-kind assistance from lawyers and doctors,” Blair said. All expenses are covered by donations. Project Home has a five household capacity, Blair said. “We realize our capacity is limited, but small towns all over the country could be doing this,” he said.

A mother from El Salvador and her child are now “almost independent from us,” Blair said, so Project Home is preparing to take on two sisters from Honduras in her place. In addition to Luis’s family, the volunteer network is also supporting a mother and three children from Honduras, a man from Rwanda, and the Honduran woman’s brother. All are living in the Keene area, Blair said, although Project Home’s 60 volunteers live throughout the region, including some in Peterborough. “There’s an extraordinary level of support and generosity in this community and the Monadnock Region,” Blair said, and a history of caring for refugees as well: local Peterborough churches helped several Cambodian families settle in the late 1970s, and a Bosnian family in the mid 1980s, he said. “There is that history here of opening arms to people coming out of difficult situations.”

Asylum-seeking guests must wait between six months and a year before they can even apply for the right to work, and even then, applications can be denied “frankly, for no good reason,” Blair said. Until they get permission to work, asylum seekers can’t get a social security number, which is required to receive a New Hampshire driver’s license, and are only permitted to volunteer for nonprofits or receive vocational training. “They are really limited,” Blair said, without legal means to work to pay for the support they need for their asylum cases.

At Phaze, Luis is pursuing a D1.1 structural steel welding certificate. “All the welders here, they are so proud because they know a lot of things and skills,” Luis said. Although he never had time to learn the useful skill on the ranch, Luis has now learned to MIG weld, and is making progress on TIG welding, which he said is harder to master. “You need to be like a drummer,” he said, coordinating both hands and a foot, all at the same time.

“Wherever he ends up landing, whether he’s going to run his own farm or work for someone else, the skills he learns here are going to be very important to be self sufficient,” Phaze welding owner Daniel Guillou said.

Project Home meets once a month and is always looking for volunteers, Blair said. “Someone with basic accounting skills would be useful,” he said, along with more drivers, and tutors. There’s no threshold commitment for participation, he said, and there’s always a need for more donations as well. A form is available on projecthomenh.org for potential volunteers to fill out. The Keene Immigrant and Refugee Partnership, whose members were instrumental in founding Project Home, do advocacy work related to immigration rights, Blair said. Ultimately, Project Home hopes to inspire chapters in other communities, he said, just as the Community Asylum Seekers Project out of Brattleboro mentored Project Home. “We welcome opportunities to share what we do with community groups,” he said.




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