On the heels of Independence Day, it's good to reflect on so much for which we have to be grateful, as Americans. It is our privilege to share an interview with my friend, and Amy's sister-in-law, Rachel Miller. Rachel and her husband, Steven, live with inspiring intentionality and simplicity which has enabled them to serve others generously. Right now they are hosting an asylum-seeking family so that they do not have to be separated in detention facilities.
Joshua Becker, a leader in the minimalist movement, cites the benefits of living with less as:
More time and energy
Less environmental impact
Higher quality belongings
Better example for your kids
Less work for someone else
As you read the following interview, we believe many of these benefits will be quite apparent in the life the Millers have created for their family.
Can you give us a little backstory on how you arrived at your current refuge hosting arrangement?
I had heard about families being separated at the border under the Zero Tolerance policy last summer and was especially upset about it as I was nursing my son at the time and there was a report of a mother whose baby was ripped out of her arms mid-nursing session. I cried every time I fed him, just imagining what that would be like. We donated some money to an organization providing legal council to these parents and kept wondering what else we could do to help. Nine months later, my husband happened to see a post in a Facebook group he's part of that was asking for sponsors for the families separated last year that are still separated. Finally a tangible way we could be involved; something more than just sending money.
It sounds like it was a fairly easy decision for you. How did your friends and relatives react to the idea?
It was! I speak Spanish and love the culture and my husband grew up overseas so other cultures are important to us and we've always talked about moving abroad but didn't want to leave our families. This was a way that "abroad" could come to us!
My parents were a little freaked out. They asked if we checked that the company we're working with is legit. We did a quick Google search to confirm that they were because we hadn't really vetted them beyond our gut reaction in our interactions with the staff.
Some of our friends were concerned that we could be getting involved with human traffickers because of fear-based news stories they'd heard. That was frustrating, but we knew they were only concerned about our well-being.
Once the family arrived and people saw that this was really happening, several friends and family members began getting involved and supporting us in various ways. Some offered gift cards to the grocery store to help us foot our newly inflated bills. Others have offered to help with transportation to all the new activities we need to take the family to (English lessons, odd jobs for pay, church and social functions, ICE check-ins, court dates, etc.). Some have found odd jobs they're willing to pay our asylum-seekers to complete for them so they can earn some cash while they wait for their work authorization.
Can you give some examples of how simple living prepared you to host?
We are a family of 5 living in a 3 BR, 1300 sq. ft. townhouse. But we actually already had an empty room we weren't using! We had recently moved all of our kids into one bedroom to allow them to comfort each other in the night instead of waking us up (it works!). We were planning to turn the extra room into a playroom, but hadn't done it yet when we responded to the request for host families. It helps that this family came with nothing but the clothes on their back - you don't have to clear out much space for that wardrobe. It also helps that we are pretty intentional about what we let into our house and what we keep in our house. We're by no means perfectly organized (I'm looking around our living room and see more than 2 surfaces that have grown clutter piles), but we do have a lot less than the average person, which makes more space and time for people.
We are also a single-income family that is now supporting two households. No, my husband is not a big time CEO or anything like that. We are able to afford this financially because 1) our friends and family have been very generous and helped out without being asked and 2) we live well below our means. I call myself a miser because sometimes it's ridiculous how far I will go to NOT spend money. But because of this, we have enough to share with this family right now!
For us, simple living applies to our schedules as well as our possessions and money. At the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I decided to protect our quiet evenings and family time. We have always fought against the cultural trend of busyness. We don't participate in a lot of activities (partially because they cost money #miserlife), so we have some extra time to add in another family's schedule and provide transportation to work and immigration court dates.
How has this experience impacted your family and those around you?
Well, my kids are picking up Spanish! Their world view is broadening as they hear stories about Honduras, taste foods from another culture, and learn that government decisions affect real people. As this family becomes "our family" we become more and more burdened by the injustices they're up against. I don't know that anyone else in our sphere has understood that burden or changed their political opinions, but they've definitely seen that there's a family who has been significantly hurt by both their government and ours and that there is another way of handling the situation.
What is something you want people to know about the refugee situation and what is a way they can help?
There's so much I want to say! But it gets overwhelming very easily so I'll just offer some definitions and organizations to follow. First off, you should know that refugees are some of the most heavily vetted people to enter our country. They are fleeing war, natural disaster, or persecution in their home country and go through a rigorous background checking process before they are resettled in a new country. Studies show that refugees are less likely to commit crimes than natural born citizens. Because they have already been approved before they arrive, refugees receive a minimal amount of government aid upon arrival to help them resettle here. Catholic Charities in Harrisburg has a refugee resettlement program that we have been a part of.
Asylum-seekers could be thought of as future refugees. They are also fleeing persecution, but their vetting process has not been fully carried out yet. Therefore, they receive no aid from the government. International law requires countries to allow people to claim asylum, however, our country is refusing to do that right now with the Stay in Mexico policy. The few that get in almost always have to wait in jail for the duration of their case which takes 2-3 years or more. The family living with us were permitted to enter because they have good lawyer representation and because they had been illegally deported without their child. They were permitted to leave the detention center because we agreed to sponsor them. Illegal immigration is lower than it's been in 10 years, but claims for asylum are at an all-time high. This is world-wide, not just our country.
Rachel Miller is a self-proclaimed miser and stay-at-home-mom of three. She loves to speak Spanish and spend time with her family doing simple things. Follow her simple mom musings at cheechica.blogspot.com/