We realize that if you are thinking about becoming a mentor/friend to a person seeking asylum, you are likely to have questions. We hope the questions and answers below can provide some guidance. Should you have further questions, feel free to contact Jill Epstein through our contact form.
What are the expectations for a mentor?
The terms of the mentor/mentee relationship are open, to be determined by both parties. Starting off, we ask mentors to meet with their mentees once a week to help establish a rapport. After that, the amount of time spent together is up to the individuals. Mentors are not supposed to be legal advocates, social workers, case managers or experts at anything; their primary task is simply to be there as a friend and cultural interpreter for newly arrived folks who would otherwise feel alone in a strange new world.
What do I need to know about the person’s home country, personal history or situation?
You don’t really need to know much in order to be a friend to your mentee, although Welcoming the Stranger will provide you with very basic information (e.g., country of origin) gathered from an application form completed at the outset. Most likely, as the relationship develops, your mentee may want to share personal history and stories about their past. However, some asylum seekers (like many immigrants and refugees) have experienced violence or seen family members hurt or killed. Be sensitive to this and let your mentee decide how much he or she wants to share.
How much money, if any, am I expected to either give to the person or spend on him or her?
There is no expectation to financially support your mentee, either by giving him/her money or purchasing things on for him/her. Down the road, we hope to raise funds to have available for mentee’s needs. For now, it’s entirely up to you if you want to do nothing financially, or buy lunch occasionally, or something more substantial to help your mentee out.
What do I do if the person has housing, food, legal, mental health or other needs or questions.
We have a list of available community resources that we expect to be updated on an ongoing basis, and a contact person, Jill Epstein, you can call. In addition, you will be connected to other mentors participating in Welcoming the Stranger who can offer advice and support.
What if the relationship doesn’t develop in a comfortable way?
You are under no obligation to continue the relationship, but we hope that you will give it some time to develop; some new Mainers lack confidence in their English or may be feeling overwhelmed by their situation. If you’ve given the effort ample time and feel there’s no ‘connection’ or the relationship is not a comfortable or useful one, we ask that you discuss the matter with Jill.
Am I expected to invite the person to my home?
No, you are not. Once you get to know the person, you may want to, but that is totally up to you.
How are the asylum-seekers being identified for this program?
We are working with Portland Adult Education, Opportunity Alliance, churches and other organizations already working with refugees to identify asylum-seekers who might like a mentor.
What if the person’s English isn’t very good?
You have a great opportunity to help someone improve their English! In the meantime, be patient and speak slowly. You could also bring books, newspapers or magazines to look at, or share.
Will there be any supervision or connections with others who are also mentoring?
We have no formal plans for supervision; however, we do plan to arrange get-togethers for mentors, and for mentors and mentees.
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum-seeker?
An immigrant seeking political asylum in Maine must feel “fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, social group, or political opinion.” Under U.S. law, an asylum seeker differs from a “refugee” in that a refugee has applied for and been granted the legal right to stay in this country, often after spending significant time in a refugee camp. Asylum seekers arrive without having been granted that right; most have been forced to flee war and turmoil in their native countries. Most asylum seekers enter the US on some type of valid visa, and must then apply for legal residence to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) within a year of arrival. The application process typically takes 2 -5 years before the person is finally interviewed and either granted or denied asylum. Most asylum seekers arrive with very little, and are initially dependent on General Assistance. Under the current law, asylum seekers cannot even apply for work authorization until 150 days after they submit their asylum application; that authorization can then take 30-60 days to receive.
I keep hearing that these folks are here illegally. Is that true?
No. Asylum-seekers are here legally and are following U.S. law (see above). Unfortunately, some politicians like to equate asylum-seekers with ‘undocumented workers’ or ‘illegal aliens’, but asylum-seekers are following the difficult and lengthy process enumerated in U.S. law.