11:27, March 10 242 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-10 11:27:09
Is it still worth trying to come to America as an asylum seeker? I don't think so

Don’t come here. If you are afraid for your life and you have no place to go, don’t pick this country. It is not safe for you here any more.

If you try to cross our borders, people in military uniform called border patrol agents, will arrest you, throw you in a freezing cage and subject you to all kinds of abuses. These agents who don’t speak your language will sit you down and interrogate you. It won’t matter if you didn’t understand their questions, they will write whatever they want in dozens of forms, make you sign them, and use them against you later as they try to deport you.

You will tell them that you don’t understand the forms, but they won’t care. They will tell you that if you don’t sign them, they won’t let you go free. So you will sign them. But even after signing the forms, they will keep you caged.

Rotting food, abuses from your jailers, and how much you miss your family may make you beg to be deported. You know that your deportation will mean returning to violence and possible death, but when you realize that this country doesn’t think of you as a person, you may pick dignity and death over being caged and treated like an animal.

You might be lucky and be among the very few who are released from immigration jail and allowed to live in our country while your asylum application is pending. This won’t mean that your immigration case will be over though. Your immigration case will not be solved for years, and even though you have a case for staying in this country, the government will make you wait for years before you get a final answer.

While you wait for your case to be heard, you won’t be given any help. You will be on your own finding a job, learning English, and adjusting to this country. But you knew that before deciding to come. You are fighter, so that won’t be a problem for you. You will work long hours, find a place to lay your head, learn English, and survive. After a couple of years of hard work and sacrifices, you will feel that there is some hope for your future. Maybe, you will start believing that the American dream is attainable.

Then, something unexpected will happen. You will get sick or you will get very depressed. Maybe you will be sad because you miss your family. Because of how sick or sad you were, you will sleep in one day, miss a shift at work, and you will be fired. You will run out of money and while looking for jobs, one day you will jump the turnstile to get on a train for a job interview. To you, it was worth the risk, but you miscalculated.

You will get arrested and charged with a crime for the first time in your life. You will swear never to make a mistake again but it will be too late. This arrest will lead you back to an immigration jail similar to the one you were released from years ago. You will wait in an immigration detention center for months before you see a judge.

The day of your immigration hearing you will be wearing an orange jumpsuit and will be shackled. You will go in front of an immigration judge who will reprimand you for the mistake you committed and tell you don’t have the right to a bail hearing. You will remain in jail indefinitely while your deportation proceedings are pending.

Because you are poor, you probably won’t be able to afford a lawyer and you won’t be given one. You will have to represent yourself in one of the most complicated legal systems in the world and all in a language you likely don’t speak. The judge will tell you to bring evidence to prove the terrible things that happen to you in your home country. But you won’t be able to get it because you are detained and can’t afford phone calls or experts.

The day of your final hearing, months after you were detained, you will face a lawyer from the government who will push for your deportation. The judge, who works with the government attorney five days a week and has a good relationship with them, will listen to them over you and order your deportation.

But let’s say you don’t get deported. If for some reason, and against all the odds, you find an immigration judge that listens to your story and understands your life is at risk if you return to your country, you will be granted permission to stay here. Then, you finally may feel that something good came your way.

That feeling will go away though. You will realize that having the ability to legally work and live in this country does not mean all your problems are solved.

For example, if you are LGBT, your life won’t be easy and you may face similar threats to those you faced in your home country. Our government won’t protect you from being wrongfully fired, won’t give you access to needed health care, and will actively criminalize your existence, particularly if you are transgender. Oh and also, if you are a transgender woman of color, you are at risk of being raped and murdered here as well.

But even if everything works out and you are never arrested, abused, murdered, or deported, you will never feel fully welcome here. No matter how much you work, how many sacrifices you make, the contributions you made to our country and the perfect English you have, you will always feel like an undesirable guest. Everybody in our government will make sure to let you know that you are not wanted here.

I know you have heard so many wonderful things about this place. I am sure that you heard that we were a “nation of immigrants,” correct? Well, that’s a thing of the past. We even changed the mission of the government agency handling asylum applications so it is clear to you. We are now “committed to protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.” What values, you ask? Well, whatever we pick to justify that you are not welcome here.

What is that? You still want to come?

I know. I know you will come because I am a refugee living in the United States and I know what it means to escape death. I am so ashamed that we will do this to you and I am angry because my new country has betrayed me and every other person who believed in it. This place is not what it used to be. Just know that.

  • Luis Mancheno is an immigration attorney in New York. He was granted asylum in the United States in 2009 after fleeing from his native Ecuador due to his sexual orientation. Twitter: @LuisFMancheno
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