GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every morning around 5 o’clock, Afghan refugee Raymond Reish sets up a chair, a table, a tent and hangs his banners on a sidewalk in front of the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I don’t need money; I don’t need anything. I just want my family. That’s all,” said Reish.
His banners read, “politicians only care about themselves, the rich and corporations” and “I’m here to rescue my family from Afghanistan.”
“As a citizen, as a taxpayer, I work every day, 12-14 hours, 6 days a week I’m a semi-driver. I pay lots of taxes. I support this country,” said Reish.
Reish will tell his story to anyone who stops to talk. He’s lost several family members to violence in the Middle East. Now he wants to bring his brother, sister and their families to the U.S. from Iran before they’re deported to their home country of Afghanistan.
“In terms of getting people here, Afghan citizens who are either outside of Afghanistan or still in the country, there are few, if any options,” said attorney Susan E. Reed, who’s the director of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Reed says the process for people seeking asylum or to immigrate is complicated and lengthy.
“To apply for asylum, a person needs to show an individualized, well-founded fear of persecution based on an individual protected characteristic. So it’s not enough just to fear generalized violence in your home country or just to fear war,” said Reed.
At the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, lawyers like Reed help people navigate the process.
“I think it’s really important to understand the asylum process, both at the southern border and with folks seeking to be refugees from abroad, is incredibly complicated; it is incredibly narrow,” said Reed.
Reish says an immigration lawyer has told him it would take 7-15 years to get one of his siblings to the U.S.
“They tell me it’s not easy. I tell them it’s very simple. Contact United Nations, tell them bring my family here. That’s it,” he said.
Reish has been on a hunger strike since Aug. 1.
“I beg the politicians, consider my problem and put their feet in my shoes and to see what I’m dealing with,” said Reish.
Reed also wishes more people would picture themselves in others’ shoes — hoping others will find understanding and empathy.
“When people get to know the stories of asylum seekers and refugees and understand the way they contribute to our communities culturally, socially, economically, there is just tremendous potential for us to grow together rather than be divided,” said Reed.