Both U.S. and international law recognize the right to asylum—that is, the right of individuals to seek protection in a country due to their fears of political or other persecution in their home country. Asylum seeking can be a difficult process, and the First UU Society’s Immigration Justice Team (IJT) is dedicated to taking action on behalf of people facing immigration difficulties at the local, national, and even international levels. Our team believes that, with few exceptions, asylum seekers leave their homes, family and loved ones behind because they have no choice. We also believe that racism, climate change, and immigration justice are very interrelated issues. The following video provides a good example of this truth:


A Burlington Family

In the US, many asylum-seekers are not eligible to receive federal or state aid while their applications for asylum are being processed. In the summer of 2019, a young asylum-seeking family in Burlington was facing this problem. That summer the Chittenden Asylum Seekers Assistance Network (CASAN) was formed to help them meet their resettlement needs. CASAN’s mission is to provide asylum-seekers with material support (housing, food, clothing) until they are able to be more independent.

Several IJT members are involved with CASAN. At each IJT meeting, they report on the status of material needs for this and other asylum-seeking families in CASAN’s care. For more information about CASAN, please contact Kim Watkin, Carolyn Smiles, or Richard Smiles at


In early 2019 the IJT learned of a young man named Israel who was in Mexico trying to help a friend escape from a cartel. Israel had become a target himself and was literally fleeing for his life when the US Border Patrol apprehended him. He was transferred to an ICE Detention Center in Louisiana, a jurisdiction with a very low rate of approval for asylum applications. The team’s initial strategy was to try to get Israel paroled in Vermont by offering housing and sponsorship for him here. Had the strategy worked, his case would have been heard in Boston, a jurisdiction with a much higher rate of asylum approvals. To support this long-shot strategy, the IJT and FUUSB congregants facilitated the mailing of dozens of cards and letters of support, and volunteers pledged to provide transportation and other assistance. We raised over $500 for his legal fees, and two IJT families offered to house him.

In December 2019, Israel’s case was finally heard in Louisiana. He was allowed to remain and work in the US under a provision of the International Convention Against Torture. (The judge in the case said he approves only one of these exceptions per year.)  When we last heard from him, he said he hopes to come to Vermont one day to meet his many friends and to thank us in person.

Pastor Steven Tendo

Steven Tendo, a Christian pastor in Uganda, led a human rights campaign there to assist political prisoners and to support voting rights. In 2012 Pastor Tendo was arrested and severely tortured, repeatedly. He was able to flee his country and sought asylum in the US. Upon his arrival here in December 2018, he was arrested and detained in Texas, facing deportation. During that time, his health became compromised, and the spread of COVID-19 in his facility put him at even greater risk. Yet as a Ugandan official admitted, if he was returned to his home country, security officials there would most likely kill him.

In early 2021, Steven was released from ICE detention. Although his case is still pending in a Texas Immigration Court, he finally experienced freedom after years of incarceration in Mexico and the US. Pastor Tendo had offers of housing from locations throughout the United States, but he decided to live in Vermont because “people there have warm hearts.” Since moving to Vermont, Steven has made remarkable progress: His health is much improved, he has a comfortable place to live, a car, and a work permit. Although the possibility of his deportation still exists, he is optimistic about his future and looks forward to quickly rebuilding his life and his ministry.

A Syrian Kurdish Family

In 2014 the militant Islamist group ISIS emerged in Iraq and imposed brutal, even murderous authoritarian rule on parts of the Middle East. In the next years, the US led a coalition that partnered with Kurdish armed forces on the ground to fight ISIS in Syria. Hassan, friend of one IJT member, was one of many Syrian Kurds who worked with US and French forces on targeting ISIS positions. The overall collaboration succeeded in defeating ISIS in Syria in March 2019. Seven months later President Trump betrayed our Syrian Kurdish allies by permitting Turkey to invade their territory. The invasion threw northeastern Syria into turmoil, and Hassan and his wife feared retribution for having collaborated with the US. They fled to Iraq, along with other family members. A French fighter who remembered Hassan’s contribution arranged for the family to travel to France to seek asylum.

The IJT raised substantial funds for Hassan and five family members to get plane fare to France. The family landed in Paris in early 2020. In the fall the French government granted them asylum for ten years. The family is grateful to the FUUSB for this great effort.

Join Us

If you are interested in working with the IJT on these or other issues, please email or contact the team through Realm.