Teresa Duhl votes to empower those who are waiting in place.

DETROIT — Teresa Duhl remembers why she’s an active voter every single day. As the development and communications manager at Freedom House Detroit, she sees her reason and inspiration for making her voice heard: The people waiting in place, seeking freedom.

The social justice champion has volunteered and worked at Freedom House, a temporary home for survivors of persecution around the world who need asylum in the United States, since 2012. She votes for them because they cannot. 

“Different policies impact the lives of people who are pretty much hanging in the balance; they are very reliant on other countries and other people who make decisions,” Duhl said of asylum seekers.

Give Me Your Huddled Masses 

If a person fled a country and they are hoping to find safety in another country, it’s their right. Duhl believes their voices are just as vital in being heard at the polls.

“These people, asylum seekers don’t have a vote and even if they are granted asylum here, it can take a long time to get your citizenship,” Duhl said. “They are very much reliant on decisions we make to make sure people in power are shepherding policies that live up to our highest ideals and our promise.”

Teresa Duhl

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Duhl added that even though she has “no illusion” on what America is, it’s still the land of opportunity for others who choose to make their way here.

“In reality, it is still many people’s best shot at safety and freedom,” she said, adding that those freedoms and liberties are seemingly being stripped away more and more due to the pandemic. “COVID-19 has really compounded that and given a good excuse for [some political leaders] to say why we shouldn’t allow people in.” 

The people who are coming to America are the hungry, poor, and tired, and they’re fleeing situations that are beyond difficult.

“Most asylum seekers we have the house are from different parts of Africa,” Duhl said, adding that some hail from the Middle East and Central and South America. “We take people from all over the world seeking asylum.”

The Reason They Run

Duhl said that some are coming because they are in the LGBTQ community; others might suffer persecution for their political beliefs.

“At the end of the day they made the choice to run or flee because they didn’t have a choice,” Duhl said. “It is a very difficult road to flee your country … and underestimated.”

Teresa Duhl

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Working at Freedom House gives Duhl an inside look at “unique stories” not always seen in headlines.

“Anyone who volunteered here knows it is one thing to talk about asylum seekers and one thing to talk about national issues, and another thing to go to work in the morning and go to where they live,” Duhl said, adding that they are trying to make the best out of life.  “They are living their lives doing the best they can making breakfast in the kitchen learning to write an American resume; fretting over who is in their country and if they are in danger and wondering if they are going to get asylum.” 

“They are starting over from scratch (regardless of their profession),” Duhl said. 

Duhl said although she votes symbolically for the asylum seekers she knows personally, she also votes because it is her duty to instill that value system into her kids.

“I am setting an example making sure they know how important it is,” she said. “The thing about Freedom House is it engenders a huge amount of loyalty. You kind of feel this sense of connection to something larger than yourself.”

“I vote to uphold the right to asylum,” she added. “I vote because other lives depend on it. I vote because I believe in the promise of this nation.”

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