Boy foregoes birthday presents, donates supplies to immigrants

This is the first in a two-part series on the Miller family and immigration.


A 13-year-old Fairfield boy realized other people needed birthday presents more than he did.

Chaiden Miller, son of Dan and Annalisa Miller and a seventh-grader at Maharishi School, celebrated his birthday Aug. 9. Instead of bringing him gifts, he instructed his friends to bring donations for immigrants affected by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Mt. Pleasant three months ago.

?I have everything a child could want: good food, good education, good family, and I live in a good community,? Chaiden said. ?I had heard all these stories about how bad [the immigrants?] lives had been, and I felt like I should share some of my fortune.?

Chaiden and his friends gathered toiletries and food such as tortillas, beans and rice. They delivered the supplies to First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, which hosts a food pantry. A group called IowaWINS (Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors) runs the food pantry and performs other services for immigrants such as transportation, English classes, and financial support for living expenses.



Tammy Shull, chairperson of IowaWINS, appreciated the generosity of Chaiden and his friends.

?He recognizes that we have the ability to share with others who need our help,? she said.

Chaiden said it feels good to assist people, but knows he can always do more.

?It was a taste of victory, but we really need to push it so these people get what they need,? he said.

Chaiden and his older sisters Lulu and Leanna have volunteered at IowaWINS in various ways, such as helping with child care while the adults hold a meeting. Leanna is fluent in Spanish, and put those skills to good use as an interpreter.

Annalisa said it?s fulfilling to see her children want to share the abundance they have with others.

?It?s a really challenging time to grow up because there?s so much wrong with the world,? she said. ?It?s good to focus on helping those who need it.?

Annalisa said she?s reminded of the Mr. Rogers?s quote, ?When bad things happen, look for the helpers.?

?It gives you hope that you can make one little bit of change in this person?s life,? she said. ?Even one small thing can be impactful in a positive way.?



IowaWINS began in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The group hoped to sponsor a Syrian family just like Iowans sponsored Vietnamese refugees after that country?s war decades earlier. However, the group learned sponsoring a Syrian family was unlikely for a few reasons, one being that refugees are now settled in large cities with others from their country, and the second reason being that fewer refugees are being admitted. U.S. News and World Report stated in April that the U.S. was on pace to admit 21,000 refugees in 2018, which would be the lowest since 1980.

IowaWINS held events where it educated the public about refugee vetting and resettlement, and showed films about refugees at the local theater. In light of the slim chance of hosting a refugee family, the organization?s mission expanded to include immigrants already living in southeast Iowa.

In May, 32 men were arrested at MPC Enterprises in Mt. Pleasant for immigration-related violations. Twenty-four of them were released on bond, but do not have work permits. Of the rest, five have been deported and three are being held in jail for previous immigration violations.


Giving aid

Since the men were the primary source of income for their household, their families have had a tough time getting by since the raid. IowaWINS sprang into action to provide the families with food, supplies and rental assistance. Some of the court hearings for the men have been booked in 2019, so they and their families are in limbo until then.

Raising money for legal expenses is one of the group?s priorities now. Shull has learned from other towns that have experienced immigration raids such as Postville and Marshalltown that immigration cases are ?not easily resolved.?

?We are looking at writing grants to be able to raise legal funds,? she said.

IowaWINS has ?financially adopted? a 15-year-old boy whose father was deported to Guatemala this month. The boy hopes to remain in the United States, and has a hearing for asylum this week. The Mt. Pleasant News reported last week that the boy?s father had been threatened by gangs in his native country, and that he was trying to save money for asylum for himself and his son at the time of his arrest.

Shull said other people left behind by the raids include wives and children who are American citizens.

The families are active in First Presbyterian Church and are becoming friends with the church?s parishioners and members of IowaWINS.


Everybody learns

?[Iowa State University] donated Rosetta Stone software, so the families are learning English while we?re learning Spanish,? Shull said. ?The families are largely running the food pantry. They want to give back because they?re so appreciative of what has been given to them.?

A few points that Shull tries to impress upon people in the group?s education programs is that paths for legal immigration into the U.S. are limited. And the length of the line depends on the country, too, with more populous countries tending to have longer wait times.

?I work as a human resources professional, and there was a man from England we were trying to bring over,? Shull said. ?After two years of waiting, he said, ?I?m done. My family can?t live like this.??