Pereira is author of I Was A Stranger, Hope for A Hidden World. At a time when angry rhetoric and political one-upmanship over illegal immigration dominates the national political agenda, the book tells the story of Pereira who brings to the conflict a simple and compelling reminder that, just as it has since its beginnings, the United States still welcomes those who come seeking hope and healing. His work at the Mexican border has enabled 20,000 other refugees—those like he once was—seek political asylum and eventual freedom in the United States.
The book also describes how asylum is now being lumped together with all forms of immigration and, as a result, asylum as a legal path to freedom appears to be vanishing for hundreds of thousands of people. Since the September 11 attack on the United States, the number of refugees both seeking and being granted political asylum has fallen by double-digit percentages.
Such was the case for Pereira. For nearly four years, he was confined to Castro's prison camps, until he escaped aboard a "freedom flight." His only crime was his refusal to renounce his religious beliefs. Released from the prison camps one day, Pereira and his family were given seats aboard a "Freedom Flight" four days later and nearly four years after applying for one. Between 1965 and 1973, twice-daily flights between Varadero, Cuba, and Miami, Florida, carried more than 261,000 Cuban refugees to freedom–the largest airlift of refugees in the history of the United States.
Arriving in Miami on November 10, 1969, emaciated and chronically ill, he carried a change of clothing and a promise in his heart: to help bring others the gift he had been given—freedom from persecution, a place to heal wounds and the chance to discover joy once more in their lives.
Since 1979, through the non-profit Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries, Pereira and volunteers from across the United States have assisted some 20,000 refugees from more than 40 countries—Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists. Refugees and those who serve them are welcomed at a five-acre facility built by volunteers called Casa Compasión—"House of Compassion"—located three miles from the U.S. government's largest immigration detention centers, from which detained refugees are released to Pereira's custody. Once there, and in partnership with sister organizations, refugees are offered food, clothing, shelter and counseling while their applications for asylum are processed, an often long and demanding procedure. Pereira considers the U.S. government a full partner in his efforts to assist refugees.
Pereira had expressed concern that thousands of would-be asylum seekers are enduring dangerous conditions in their homelands out of fear that they will be detained for years in U.S. immigration detention centers and because of America's attitude toward immigrants in general. Under current practices, all asylum seekers are subject to mandatory confinement in detention centers—including entire families.
The book is co-authored by Chris Kelley, an award-winning journalist and 27-year veteran of The Dallas Morning News.
New Book Recounts How Cuban Refugee Who Escaped Castro's Prison Camps Now Helps Thousands of Other Refugees Find Freedom at the Mexican Border.
Jul 29, 2008; At a time when angry rhetoric over illegal immigration often dominates the U.S. political agenda, a new book introduces a...