We who have experienced the difficult U.S. immigration process can make a significant difference by sharing our stories to help those crossing the border. When we do this, we help people become more informed about what to expect because there is a lot of misinformation out there. One major piece of misinformation I see often on social media, for example, is that because President Joe Biden is a Democrat people have a better chance of being granted asylum. They are rushing to the border before the next election.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

I’ve spoken with several newcomers to Maine who are seeking asylum and they’ve shared their experiences with me. Many of them realized only after arriving in the United States that the asylum process is incredibly complicated, and that, despite having Biden in office, the waiting period can be excruciatingly long.

To put it in perspective, there are now hundreds of thousands of asylum cases backlogged, and most newly-arrived asylum seekers don’t even expect to have their first interview until after the 2024 election. According to Syracuse University, the approval rate for those seeking asylum is only 30%. This means that many people end up having their asylum cases rejected after years of waiting, which leads to immense disappointment, a tremendous waste of time and deep regrets.

Even if you manage to secure the right paperwork, that’s just the beginning of the journey. I can speak from my own experience, having arrived in the United States with the correct documentation. On my very first day, I had the legal right to work, and within a couple of weeks, I received my Social Security card and green card. This paved the way for naturalization within five years.

Finding my first job here wasn’t without its challenges. I eventually landed a position in insulation at a Yarmouth-based company, earning a modest wage of $10 per hour. It was a humble start, but it allowed me to slowly save up for college. Still, the emotional pangs of missing family and friends, along with the loss of the life I once knew, often kept me up at night. And that was nothing compared to the hardships faced by those seeking asylum today, who often shockingly find themselves confined to shelters or hotel rooms.

While everyone has the right to seek asylum, and we all want better economic opportunities and education for those in search of it, it’s crucial that we also share the realities on the ground to prepare them for what lies ahead.

New Mainers, regardless of their backgrounds, have a responsibility to inform those who reach out to us from overseas about the realities and difficulties that asylum seekers face upon their arrival in the United States. This information can help them make more informed decisions about pursuing asylum. Our role is to shine a light on the path, ensuring that potential asylum seekers are fully aware of the challenges they may face. With the right information given, asylum seekers may also have the opportunity to prepare the right documents to bring in with them from their countries of origin to have a better chance at their asylum interview.

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