After 9/11, they said, irony was dead.
Someone should tell the immigration bureaucrats.
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU and an immigrants advocacy organization cites government data that show the average wait time for a "reasonable fear determination" is 111 days. (For the chronometrically challenged, that's nearly four months.)
America may be the land of the free and home of the brave, and Lady Liberty may welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses. But if you're exactly the type of immigrant who most needs to get in — a person fleeing a tyrannical homeland where government goons want to torture you, kill you, or torture you and then kill you — the U.S. government doesn't welcome you with open arms.
First, we lock you in detention. In other words, prison. Bad prison. The kind of hellhole where, according to an ACLU report, rape is among a litany of horrors, along with medical and psychological abuse. (For some reason, the guy who died of treatable penile cancer — the feds didn't treat him, but they did issue him an extra ration of boxer shorts before he croaked — sticks in my memory.)
There are three ways out of immigration prison.
First: deportation back to the motherland.
Third: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, grants you asylum.
"A person applying for asylum must prove that he or she has a fear of persecution in their country of nationality that is well-founded because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion," according to the government. The magic ticket to asylum, and release into the sweet fresh air of American liberty, is a "reasonable fear determination." (The "fear" refers to your fear of being tortured or killed because the government back home is out to get you, or is powerless or unwilling to stop private bad guys — a drug cartel, for example — who are after you. The "reasonable" means that you're not just paranoid, that they really are out to get you.)
A reasonable fear determination, as we've said, takes about four months. Sometimes less. Sometimes longer.
ACLU lawsuit aside, there's something more than a little, um, ironic about these delays. As Kate Linthicum reports in The Times, regulations say that asylum-seekers are entitled to get their yeas and nays within 10 days. Which, considering that thing about rape and penile cancer, seems plenty long as it is.
But doesn't it seem a little strange — OK, totally wack — that we throw political dissidents, women running away from female circumcision, people who have lost everything but the clothes on their backs into prison? Even if it is for "just" 10 days, much less four months? You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Why not put them up in hotels instead?
The current system at a glance: Welcome to the United States of America! Sorry you got raped. Oh, and did you hear about our unemployment rate?
Still not convinced America is a downright mean country to asylum-seekers? Consider this: Germany pays applicants for asylum while they're waiting to hear about their requests to stay.
Maybe it's time to send Mme. Liberté back to France.