You traveled a thousand miles and spent thousands of dollars to reach the United States. The immigration rulebook (sometimes called “the law”) says that if you made it, you could apply for asylum and that officials “shall” process you. But guess what? In this game, the government cheats. It doesn’t want to process you. It wants you to go home. So when you reached the border in 2019, the officials at the legal crossing point wouldn’t process you. They stood in the middle of the bridge to block you.
You joined a lawsuit, and a court said, “Government, what you’re doing is illegal. Stop.” So in November 2021, the government issued a new policy that says, “You border guys, you can’t tell people to go away.” But it then promptly ignored that policy “because of COVID-19.” But that excuse ended in May 2023, so it reiterated the policy in a formal rulemaking. It couldn’t be clearer: “Our policy is to inspect and process all arriving noncitizens.” So you’d think you would get processed if you arrived at the border. But no, the government cheats.
Border officials are telling people that they must make appointments before they can request asylum, and they cap the number of appointments, even though the new rules make it perfectly clear an appointment will not be required. You can’t even schedule an appointment at all. Rather, you are put in a lottery to decide if you can even request an appointment. When Isabel “Doe” showed up unannounced at a legal crossing point with her bleeding husband whom a cartel shot, she was turned away. Her husband was then murdered in Mexico.
You can read more about Isabel’s story powerfully described by American Immigration Council’s Dara Lind here.
Now Isabel and others are suing the federal government again to win a case that they already won, to obtain a policy that already exists on paper upon paper upon paper. It’s incredible: the government simply will not follow its own rules created by this administration and publicly announced just months ago enacted into law by Congress. It cheated, got caught, claimed it would follow the rules, and cheated again. It cheated on the rules that it wrote. This fraud—if perpetrated by an immigrant—would lead to prison time. But there will be no consequences for any government officials, even though their actions directly led to someone’s death.
The U.S. immigration system is complicated, to put it mildly. It is nearly impossible to immigrate legally for most people. Asylum is supposed to be the escape hatch—the way around the bureaucratic nonsense and path to safety. But exactly because it makes the impossible possible, government officials hate it. They want to decide who, where, and when.
Potential immigrants scrutinize the policy pronouncements coming from Washington, D.C. to see if they may get a chance to come. When a government agency promises to follow the law, immigrants shouldn’t have to second guess. People are betting all they have—their money and their lives—on what the government says. But this isn’t monopoly money, and there aren’t bonus lives. It’s not a game, so when the government cheats, it’s not just game over. It might be life over.