Refugee sees hope through the darkness of uncertainty

Posted April 13, 2018 at 12:00 am

The Catholic Commentator

Nearly 18 months in his new life Diego Galindo says he’s comfortable, and at times even allows himself a moment of peace.

Gone, at least for now, is the threat of persecution he and his family feared in their native Ecuador. Gone are his every move, or the moves of his family, including his five-year-old son, being monitored.

But bubbling just below the happy facade he tries to present are his own emotions, feelings of despair conflicting with those of relief, uncertainty clashing with security. A political analyst/journalist by trade, Galindo now spends up to 70 hours a week, six days a week performing manual labor at a Baton Rouge metal recycling plant.

Family time is scarce, and it has taken a toll not only on him but also his wife and their three children. Both Galindo and his wife struggle with depression, and at one point his wife spent three months in bed. Only a visit from a relative helped her begin the recovery process.

In his darkest hours Galindo contemplates returning to his native country, knowing he would have to live in hiding or potentially face death if he was discovered.

“Emotionally, it has been difficult,” Galindo said through an interpreter recently at the Hispanic Apostolate, which has provided assistance to the family.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I feel in limbo, and I don’t know which way to go,” he added. “There has to be a purpose for us to be here. It’s God’s will to be going through this situation, but I wish it would stop.”

Julia Scarnato, director of the Hispanic Apostolate, has witnessed similar scenarios as families adjust to a new life and culture, often swapping their professional careers at home to settle for more menial jobs but a safe environment in the United States.

“It’s the same picture for everybody,” Scarnato said. “Every person who came to this country has a reason. It can be political or violence or hunger.

“It was their dream because they knew it would be better. That’s why we have a government. We need to improve the way we handle immigrants. Just a few institutions are helping immigrants, and it should be more.”

Galindo is also haunted by an uncertain future. He has filed for political asylum, forced to endure a seven-hour hearing, more than three times the length of a typical hearing. He believes he came under increased scrutiny because as a political analyst for the government in Ecuador he routinely handled important documents but which he insists were of no harm to anyone.

He was told he has better than a 50-50 chance of being allowed to remain in the United States, but given the recent seismic change in immigration and refugee policy nationally nothing is certain. Expenditures have already exceeded $15,000, forcing him to receive assistance from his family in Ecuador.

Galindo’s troubles at home began in 2011 when government officials began following him and his wife, who worked at a hospital in Lago Agrio, a border town where Columbian guerillas operate and is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Galindo says he believes government officials feared he would leak sensitive information to the media.

“That’s why they had it against me,” Galindo admitted. “I was frightened.”

At that time, his wife asked Galindo if it was time to leave Ecuador but he insisted they stay.

During the next several years, the threat appeared to diminish, only to resurface in 2016, when government officials began to follow his young son. Galindo and his mother-in-law, who was an attorney for the government, were both fired, although he said it was made to look as if he resigned.

Weighing their options, Galindo initially considered moving to Chili where resuming his career as a journalist was a possibility, but an extradition treaty between the countries made it too dangerous.

They eventually moved to the United States, first staying with family members in New Jersey before moving to Baton Rouge to be with his wife’s cousin.

“I put a lot of resistance to coming to the United States,” he said. “I knew that it was the safest place but I knew I would have to start all over. I want to continue (his career as a journalist.)”

Galindo, who has been a reporter, editor, copy editor and publisher in his media career, has been relying on his Catholic faith to carry him through the difficult times. He has spent hours praying in St. George Catholic Church in Baton Rouge. He continues to work on developing his English skills, but with time such a precious commodity he must do it on his own.

Galindo’s children have also been forced to endure their own difficulties, to the point where his oldest daughter, who is 14, has expressed a desire to return to Ecuador to be with her extended family.

“This is not what I had planned,” he said, tears trickling down his check carrying the past several years of fear and frustration.

“This is a person that needs an opportunity,” Scarnato said. “This is what we want, give people an opportunity to learn.

“Sometimes people think because we don’t speak English we are not able to do something. You will be surprised how people with a lack of language can be creative. You don’t need to talk all of the time.”

Despite his current challenges, Galindo believes in a brighter future. His hope is it’s sooner rather than later.

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