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What does six years mean to you?

Date: November 28, 2022
Country: United States of America
Type: Post
Issues: Asylum , Detention , Migrant Rights

What does six years mean to you? Can you recall the goals you have worked toward in the last six years, the personal changes you have gone through, the way your relationships have grown and changed? For Bridget Chivimbiso, it has taken six years to be granted asylum in the United States after leaving her home in Zimbabwe to avoid police prosecution and the likely torture she faced there. For Bridget Chivimbiso, six years marks the amount of time she has been separated from her children. Six years of being afraid of being deported and sent back. Six years of waiting for a court hearing. Six years of surviving.

Bridget Chivimbiso was raised in the loving embrace of her community in Norton, Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe. The community and connection with the land gave her strength and courage. Her father was a teacher and later the principal of her local elementary school. Her mother was the caregiver to her children, garden, and community alike. She excelled at school and graduated from high school - on the path to college and a professional career. Then, her father died. Her life changed. The next stages of her life were dictated by social and cultural norms: getting married, taking care of her husband, her mother and younger siblings, and having children of her own. She became the caregiver.

Her marriage did not last. Bridget Chivimbiso went back to school and found fulfilling work as a social worker. In 2016, her life changed forever when she was targeted and arrested by the police. She feared torture and abuse in prison. The night before her court hearing, she kissed her children good-bye and fled first to Botswana, and then to South Africa. Knowing that social media posts made her vulnerable to recognition and extradition, Bridget was forced to look further for a safe place, where people did not know her and would not notify the authorities. She learned that it was easy to obtain a visitor visa to Panama. She got on a flight and landed in Panama City.

Bridget Chivimbiso, along with other refuge-seeking migrants, used the one resource she had: her feet. Her two feet carried her through Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, thousands of miles of walking. Each country denied her refuge, denied her safety. Finally, her weary feet brought her to Mexicali, where she hoped to ask for asylum to the United States. Detained for days before being released on electronic shackles, Bridget boarded a bus which took four long days and countless transfers to deposit her in North Dakota, where she knew someone. To remove her tracking anklet, Bridget Chivimbiso had to take a bus from North Dakota to Fort Snelling Immigration Court in Minnesota, then back again to North Dakota, a long drive. A couple months later, Bridget decided to move to the Twin Cities.

Despite not knowing a soul, Bridget Chivimbiso began to plant seeds of connection in her chosen new home. Her body was exhausted from the suffering she had endured, and she was referred to a community clinic. At the clinic, she found medical care and met a fellow Zimbabwean social worker. The social worker helped her find housing with Catholic nuns in South Minneapolis. Bridget Chivimbiso also discovered The Advocates, where she found support for her goal of pursuing asylum. Her volunteer lawyer from The Advocates helped her navigate the complicated and never-ending legal paperwork. They were there when unexpected obstacles appeared in her path, such as when her case was dismissed mere days before her hearing. Bridget's attorneys fought to get another court date for her, and Bridget's six-year journey toward permanent safety in the United States.

Bridget Chivimbiso is a survivor. But she is also so much more. She is a nursing assistant, a nursing student, an advocate for human rights, a mother, a daughter, a friend. Now, free from the threat to her personal safety, Bridget Chivimbiso thrives. Those who know her have witnessed to her transformation. Before, although she smiled, her body told the tale of someone still haunted by their circumstances. Now, Bridget walks tall, her smile no longer masking the worry behind it. She looks forward to finally being able to embrace her children again. Asylum grants her the security of legal permanent residency, which opens the door to opportunities that were previously unavailable to her and her children. Most of all, her new status allows Bridget Chivimbiso to live as herself, to dedicate all her mental energy to pursuing her passions. For as she herself puts it, "Indeed, the power of finding refuge and being welcomed with unconditional love empowers survivors to defy all odds and rise beyond their stories."