writte by Sumar Deen (M.S. ’21) & Victoria Bowden, M.P.P. candidate for Georgia State News Hub
PHOTO CREDIT: Alyssa Pointer/AJC
Anton Flores-Maisonet (B.S.W. ’92) frequently commutes from Decatur, Ga., to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to provide hospitality, assistance and accompaniment to recently arrived immigrants and asylum seekers at no cost.
His passion for immigrant justice and deep faith led him to co-found, with his wife Charlotte and immigrants Arturo and Norma Martinez, nonprofit organizations that serve newcomers. They founded their first community ministry, Alterna, in LaGrange, Ga., in 2006. Four years later, Alterna birthed El Refugio, a hospitality house and visitation program serving immigrants at the Stewart Detention Center and their loved ones in Lumpkin, Ga.
In 2020, as a response to the pandemic and rumors of mass releases from immigration detention, Flores-Maisonet reimagined hospitality and accompaniment for those being released from immigration detention. Casa Alterna has since spearheaded an Atlanta-based response of helping reunite asylum seekers with their families in the United States. This ministry involves scores of volunteers greeting recently released asylum seekers at Atlanta’s airport and offers free accommodations at the Atlanta Friends Meeting in Decatur, at last count to more than 400 asylum seekers from over 50 countries.
“Our motto is ‘el amor cruza fronteras,’ which translates to ‘love crosses borders,’” Flores-Maisonet said. “Our newly arrived, asylum-seeking friends are resilient, courageous, loving and have the ability to enrich our communities with their presence. If we can confront our own fears and cross our own borders — the walls we have constructed in our hearts — we can find a compassionate and just response to the polarization and dehumanization of immigrants.”
This work of accompaniment and hospitality, now embodied at Casa Alterna, is Flores-Maisonet’s personal mission.
“When working with asylum seekers, I understand their time of arrival can often be sandwiched between a traumatic past and an unknown future,” he said. “But in this liminal space when we offer them their first welcome into freedom, there is a palatable sense of hope. We get to witness this one brief moment of pure joy.
“Through simple acts like providing our asylum-seeking companions access to a phone to call their loved ones, or a meal from a restaurant that serves food from their country of origin, we get to witness our motto: A love that crosses borders. These simple acts of presence and solidarity give us the privilege to witness the resiliency of the human spirit.”
Volunteers undergird much of Casa Alterna’s efforts. An accompaniment team serves about 100 asylum seekers at the airport on a weekly basis, helping them finalize travel arrangements, providing food and basic travel necessities, and escorting them to their boarding gates. A hospitality team stocks the kitchen and supply closet and keeps the Atlanta Friends Meeting clean and ready to receive short-term guests.
Flores-Maisonet and his team build and foster a sense of community, one in which asylum seekers feel welcomed and supported as friends.
“We intentionally use the language of accompaniment,” he said. “We are not here to rescue, rather, we accompany and assist every step of the way, from the moment these individuals are released from a detention center or touch down at the airport. If anyone is being rescued, it is us. We’re being rescued from our complacency and sometimes from our own complicity in systems of global disparity and violence.”
Casa Alterna’s name speaks to its vision as a compassionate and justice-oriented “alternative.” Where there is an unjust community policy or prejudice pushing immigrants to the margins of our society, Casa Alterna wants to be a visible alternative of love and justice.