Save Freedom House 

After losing major grant, local do-gooders imperiled

I've often written about Freedom House, the nonprofit, nonpolitical place that exists to provide shelter for those victims of persecution seeking political asylum in the United States and Canada. There is nothing else quite like it.

Over the years they've saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of victims and help them start new lives in this country and Canada.

But now they are in bad shape financially. They unexpectedly lost a major grant, and Deborah Drennan, the executive director, is worried they may have to close. "I've laid off six of my eight staff members, and both myself and the other two are working without a paycheck," Drennan told me last weekend.

"As you know, sending people away from Freedom House is in many cases a death sentence. I can't let this happen," she said.

If Freedom House did close, it would be a mini-global tragedy. People come here, somehow, from all over the world. Rwanda, Cameroon, Libya, Russia. When they arrive at this century-old, redbrick house (a former convent) in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge, they are often a malnourished, dehydrated mess. Most have been tortured, physically and psychologically; many have been raped.

Though we tend to forget, these are the kind of people for whom this country was founded. In fact, victims of political and religious persecution started coming here long before it was a country. (Think Puritans.) Because of that, the United States has, in principle, always been open to provide asylum for legitimate victims.

Trouble is, it often takes some time for asylum seekers to be able to prove they have been persecuted. Many of those fleeing for their lives aren't able to bring all the necessary documentation. Some have nothing at all.

Increasingly, first the U.S. and now the Canadian governments have been clamping down on asylum requests. The average bedraggled victim can't find and engage a top-notch immigration lawyer, much less pay one. Nor are they often ready to adjust to a life in a strange new world.

Which is where Freedom House comes in. It was established by a group called the Detroit-Windsor Refugee Coalition to meet the needs of Central American refugees in the 1980s. But the founders soon realized that there was a lot more need out there — and that most of those arriving needed more than three hots and a cot.

Today, they try to provide everything from a temporary home to transitional housing, once the refugee gets asylum. "Our services include medical services, mental health care, education, job training, recreation and legal aid," Drennan said. In recent years, they haven't lost one asylum case in the courts. Several former clients are now living in Detroit, working energetically to help bring the city back.

But asylum cases take a long time — typically eight to 12 months, sometimes years. The refugees are not legally allowed to work while they wait. So they help where they can. Some have been working with Ron Quick, a Freedom House board member who has a building firm, to rebuild the shelter's ancient kitchen.

Some work hard to learn English. Freedom House used to pay for classes, but they've lost other federal and state funding, and, thanks to the economy, charitable donations are down.

So they are scrambling to just keep afloat, while they reapply for the grant they lost and try to come up with other sources of funding.

Personally, I think the best thing that could happen would be for Freedom House to be able to expand its operations, and work to settle many more deserving asylum seekers in Detroit. Those are precisely the folks who could rebuild the devastation into a city.

But for now, it is important they stay alive. Anyone wanting to help can send money or contact Drennan at Freedom House, 2630 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit 48216, or call: 313-964-4320. Incidentally, they also would be grateful for in-kind donations — paper goods, supplies, etc., all of which are fully tax-deductible.

Mackinac Center's McCarthyism:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a sort of odd think tank based up in Midland, also known as Dow Chemical land. Normally they crank out "free-market" analysis and policy prescriptions, most of the sort that crazy old Ayn Rand would love, if she didn't happen to be dead.

This is all harmless enough, and occasionally they even have made some sense on an issue or two. But now they are selling out to the right-wing thought police. Last week, the Mackinac Center filed Freedom of Information Act requests asking for all the e-mails sent by labor studies professors at Michigan's three major universities — Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State — including such key words as "Scott Walker" and "Madison."

All the e-mails, that is, these professors sent regarding the Wisconsin clash, where the governor is out to destroy public employee unions by taking away their right to collectively bargain.

Mackinac won't say why they are doing this, but it is clearly a thuggish attempt to intimidate professors and cast a chilling effect over what should be uncensored academic debate.

I was stunned that the Mackinac Center would do this ... until I learned, via Mother Jones magazine, that past major donors to the center have included the Charles Koch Foundation, established by the family that exists to make Satan look moderate.

They also take money from the family that owns Wal-Mart, the DeVos family, and, best of all, a family that includes the founder of Blackwater, the infamous private security force.

Whether any of these groups leaned on the Mackinaniacs is unknown, as are the center's intentions. They may be seeking, I suppose, evidence professors are using university resources for improper political activity.

What the Mackinac Center is really doing, of course, is just trying to intimidate them. Actually, this is likely to backfire.

However, if the right-wingers have any money to blow, I suggest FOIA-ing all my e-mails from my Wayne State account. Actually, as a professional troublemaker, I'm hurt they haven't. If they do, they'll find such highly controversial messages as, "Sorry, you can't have an incomplete, Billy. You didn't do the work."

However, I did once use it to order the Brandenburg Concertos on CD. And whatever they say, I'm keeping them. (Naturally, I use my personal e-mail account to plot poisoning the reservoir and transferring all power to the Soviets.)

But you can't accuse the Mackadamia nuts of lacking a sense of humor; they also, bizarrely, are requesting those profs' e-mails to and from ... Rachel Maddow. And I think I can speak for the entire Wayne State faculty when I say that if any of those MSU twerps scored a date with her, we are going to be really, really mad.

Memo to the idiots:
So you shelled out as much as $300 to see an out-of-control drug addict, alcoholic, hooker-scaring Charlie Sheen rave on stage at the Fox, and you are complaining he wasn't funny? You can't imagine how sorry for you I am. Thank Bog you didn't waste that money on Freedom House, or the Detroit Rescue Mission. Your plight is enough to send a sudden rush of fecal matter to the heart.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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