Beth Emet launched the Post-Detention Accompaniment Team (P-DAT) in June 2018. The team of Beth Emet volunteers provides direct, high-impact, person-to-person, short-term assistance to asylum seekers upon release from detention. In 2018-19, P-DAT trained 26 volunteers and provided assistance to over 100 asylum seekers from 17 countries, enabling asylum seekers to pursue a new life in America. P-DAT is a partner of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI), a “non-profit, faith-based organization of staff and volunteers called to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of all individuals and communities affected by immigration detention, deportation, and post-detention.”
P-DAT assists asylum seekers during the first and third full weeks of each month (10 days per month) by responding to calls made to the ICDI hotline. When a call comes in -- usually from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer, immigration attorney, or a family member of the asylum-seeker -- a team of two trained volunteers goes to the ICE office in Chicago to greet the asylum-seeker and provide assistance for them to continue their journey to establish a new life in America.
Many asylees were arrested at the border or port of entry when they filed their request for asylum and were brought to detention facilities in the Chicago area. Upon release they find themselves on the unfamiliar streets of Chicago, wearing the clothes they had on when detained, having no cell service, and, in many cases, speaking little English. Many feel vulnerable and alone; they need resources and assistance with logistics to reunite with family and friends who are living in the United States.
P-DAT volunteers greet the asylees, determine the best plan for continuing their journey, give them use of the volunteer’s cell phone, and provide a backpack of weather-appropriate clothing, basic toiletries, and snacks. P-DAT volunteers then take the asylee to the Greyhound bus station, purchase a ticket to their destination, furnish them a decent meal, give them money to buy food and drinks during their travels, and stay with them until their bus departs. Although the asylee and volunteers spend just a few hours together, often hindered by language barriers, when good-byes are said there are hugs and even a few tears shed while wishing them a safe journey and good life.
The Torah instructs us 36 times to care for the stranger -- far more than it commands us to observe the Sabbath or any other mitzvot. The P-DAT program delivers a very literal interpretation of “welcoming the stranger” and has a profound impact on both the asylee and the volunteer.