AS HE STOOD IN FRONT OF THE BORDER that separates Mexico from the United States, a strange mix of emotions overcame Yahya Samatar.
One of those emotions was joy. Only three months earlier, Yahya had been forced to flee Somalia after receiving death threats from members of al-Shabaab, the local offshoot of al-Qaeda, and now – after completing a grueling journey that had taken him across the Atlantic and through South and Central America – he was about to arrive to the place he had always hoped to call home: the United States.
But even though Yahya was happy, he was also overcome by anxiety. He had no way of knowing if his next move would turn out the way he wanted, and even though he hoped with all of his might that his efforts had not been in vain, there was just no guarantee that that would be the case.
As he inched his way to the border, Yahya Samatar couldn’t help but feel those two emotions thrash within him. When he finally got to the crossing, he took a deep breath to steady his nerves and walked towards an immigration officer.
“I don’t have a visa,” Yahya told the officer. “But I’d like to apply for asylum in the United States.”
Just a few minutes later, Yahya was behind bars.
“First they put me in a very cold cell at the border, and then I was taken to a maximum security prison where I spent time with murderers and drug dealers,” he remembers.
Despite recommendations against this practice, Yahya was forced to stay at the detention centre throughout the duration of his asylum application, which lasted seven months and 10 days.
“I didn’t have access to Internet, so I couldn’t access anything to make my case very strong and I couldn’t get supporting documentation to take to the court.”
It was November of 2014, and Donald Trump hadn’t officially announced that he was running for president yet. Barack Obama was halfway through his second term at the White House, and yet, Yahya’s situation – like that of thousands of immigrants trapped in detention centres across the United States – was grim.
As the months passed, Yahya couldn’t help but feel sad. As far as he could tell, that feeling came from the fact that he had chosen to live in a country that wanted nothing to do with him.