For asylum seekers, Manhattan is just part of a harrowing journey

They also have carte blanche in the kitchen and do their shopping with the money that Thielmann provides them. Gonzalez said he likes to make arepas and pasta, and on a recent evening Thielmann said they offered her what looked like a delicious pork loin concoction, which she had to decline because she was too tired from waking up at 4:30 a.m. that day to greet new asylum seekers at the Port Authority.

Thielmann is also cooking for his guests, as Gonzalez’s nephew and his girlfriend were finishing a breakfast of scrambled eggs prepared by their host when a reporter appeared at the house.

For Gonzalez, the situation is not something he takes for granted.

“I had to walk for almost two months in heavy rain, sleep on the streets, eat on the streets,” he said, recounting his trip from Venezuela to the US border.

“I feel like a king,” he said. And for that, he gives thanks to Thielmann and to God.

But there are other helps.

The visit of a fellow asylum seeker

A day after their arrival, the three were visited by another immigrant. Rafael Suarez, 25, had come to the United States in 2019 from Honduras and, like the newcomers, he had also been hosted by Thielmann. At the time, he was recovering from his time at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas, where he had spent three months.

“Those were the worst days of my life,” he said via text message.

His luck changed after he arrived in New York and obtained a room in the Thielmann house. His first job was washing dishes in a restaurant, he said, and in 2020 he received his work permit and social security number. In the meantime, he has applied for asylum.

His request was based on the threat he faced in Honduras as a gay man, an issue that has been widely documented. A Honduran human rights group noted earlier this year that 405 LGBTQ Hondurans have been killed since 2009, and a Human Rights Watch report noted that many LGBTQ asylum seekers arriving at the southern border “reported serious abuses in their country of origin, including rape, assault, death threats, extortion and enforced disappearances or murders of romantic partners and friends.

In this violent context, Suarez’s asylum request was approved on December 21, 2021. He remembers the exact time when his life was changed: 11:39 am.

“The judge said to me, ‘Sir, you have been granted asylum.'”

That moment, he said, was transformative, allowing him to find gainful employment while sending money to his mother. Today, he works in a factory in Astoria, baking cookies for a baker whose outlets are in Manhattan. Oatmeal raisin cookies, he said, are his favorite.

More importantly, he is able to inhabit his identity without fear of persecution.

“What has really changed my life is being in this city so FREE and being able to be who I am,” he wrote, using all caps to underline the word FREE in Spanish.

His advice for these newcomers was simple.

“I told them, welcome to this beautiful country and that they have to rest one day and the next day look for a job to move forward.”

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