A young asylum seeker adjusts to life—and English—in her new Midwestern home
by JFON Michigan Legal Assistant Krista Crumpton
When extremists targeted 8-year-old Jasmine’s father for his pro-democracy work, the family fled their home country to seek asylum in the United States. Jasmine, her parents, and her siblings made a harrowing journey out of their country and escaped to Michigan a year ago. This was a very frightening time for young Jasmine.
As soon as JFON Michigan staff attorney Kourtney Lovett heard their story, she knew they had a strong case for asylum. After several months of hard work, JFON filed the family’s asylum application, an application so thick with the family’s supporting documents, testimonies, and news articles, it had to be sent in a box.
Now Jasmine and her family must wait for their interview to be scheduled at the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) in Chicago for a grant of asylum. This could take months or even several years.
Kourtney also filed TPS (Temporary Protected Status) applications for each one of Jasmine’s family members, along with a work permit application for Jasmine’s father. They eagerly await approval for the extra layer of protection TPS will give them.
Meanwhile, Jasmine is learning how to adjust to a very different life in the United States. A new school in a new language is a challenge. Jasmine is a very bright child and always gets very good grades. On her first test in an American school, Jasmine got a zero. She was crushed. Tears ran down her face as she handed the test to her father. She was used to showing him glowing reports from her teachers. She had never gotten such a terrible grade.
But her father patiently encouraged her. He was no stranger to the struggles of learning other languages in new and demanding circumstances. He drew from those memories of his own victories to encourage her. “Don’t worry, Jasmine! It’s okay,” he told her. “You will do better, but it will take time. Little by little, you will get it.”
Some months later, Jasmine’s father drove her to a new school to take an English skills test. Jasmine’s little heart beat fast. Her throat felt tight with the anticipation of the challenge ahead of her. As she entered the classroom, she remembered her father’s advice, took a deep breath, and told herself, “little by little.” Her confidence rose as she looked down at the test. The letters and words on the page were no longer so unfamiliar. She could understand them! With building confidence, she picked up the pencil and began.
Jasmine hasn’t received the results of her test yet, but her father is sure when she hands them to him this time—she won’t be crying.
“Jasmine is amazing,” he says. “She is the youngest in our family, but she is learning English the quickest!”
Jasmine’s adjustment to the United States hasn’t been all challenge and difficulty. She and her family have had great fun learning to celebrate new holidays.
She was especially excited about Halloween. They found costumes and investigated how kids go trick-or-treating. Jasmine’s father bought them a pumpkin to try carving into a jack o’ lantern.
The family heard a lot about a day called “Black Friday,” so Jasmine’s father took them all out to the stores to watch everyone shop. They even found a few things on sale for their family, too.
Jasmine is learning the fun of winter sports in Michigan. She has tried sledding and even ice skating.
But the best thing of all about their new life is feeling safe. Even as a little girl in her country, she felt the terror of what she and her family experienced. She feels happy and relieved now, especially knowing her dad is safe here, too.
About the author
To be called a refugee [or an asylum seeker] is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.
—Tennessee Office for Refugees
Legal Assistant Krista Crumpton daily witnesses the truth of these words in the clients she works with at JFON Michigan.
Although our Michigan site operates four offices within the state, it’s still a very large area to cover, especially considering the high demand for the expert and long-term immigration legal services JFON Michigan provides.
“We follow the words of Jasmine’s father— little by little,” says Krista, with emphasis, “as we help other families just like Jasmine’s find safety, peace, and a new life that adds immense value to our community.”
Being part of a greater community, Krista reminds us, can make a real difference for asylum seekers settling into a new home. For children especially, there is a level of comfort when they can join an immigrant community that shares their culture and language.
“This is where they can take a ‘break’ from the stresses of being immersed in a new culture and language and be themselves with others who are going through the same adjustment,” Krista explains. “I have also seen very strong bonds created between refugee families and UMC church members who take them under their wing, so to speak, to help them navigate the complexities of life and culture in the United States.”
Inspired by the bravery of the clients she meets at JFON Michigan, Krista hopes for more opportunities “to tell the personal stories of immigrants and their journey through the US immigration system.”
* Photo credit: Ben Mullins