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A quick warning. There are curse words that are unbeeped in today's episode of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, thisamericanlife. Org. Saddam Saeed begins each day with a 6:00 AM walk around Cairo. It's the only 30 minutes of his day he gets to himself before emails and meetings and the chaos of his enormously stressful job begins. His job, right now he's in charge of getting trucks filled with humanitarian aid into Gaza during the current war. He does this for a big American nonprofit called Inara that sent aid into Gaza for decades. But since the war, every day there were bottlenecks and logistical challenges with all the different governments and agencies and militaries and aid groups involved. I talked to him at the end of a very long day of this, and I don't know, maybe this is a sign of his diplomatic skills. He seemed so calm, so chill that I could not ask him about it. Maybe that's just a facade. It is a facade.


It is. I had to tell you I learned the hard way to hold myself together. I think I'll break down after things these are, but now I can't. I'm keeping it together.


I talked to him twice just before the recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and then during the ceasefire. I was interested in talking to him because the stakes of any pause in fighting seems so high for aid workers like him. Before the ceasefire, so little humanitarian aid was actually making it into Gaza, an average of only 55 trucks a day, according to the UN. Remember at that point, already 1.7 million people in Gaza were displaced from their homes. Doctors had been operating without anesthesia. They didn't have painkillers and basic medicines. Food and water were in short supply, a pause in fighting would mean a chance to finally get stuff through. I wanted to know how he was preparing and what he hoped would happen. The answer was about his preparations. His team in Gaza was going around doing what they had basically been doing for weeks, trying to figure out what the greatest needs were. For instance, in the schools and other buildings that are now the main shelters for over a million people in Gaza. These are incredibly overcrowded. People sleeping on the ground everywhere.


Just to give you a bit of an image, women are sleeping inside the rooms, inside the school shelter, and the men are sleeping in the yard of the school. But also a lot of families are in the streets and it's winter, it's freezing. That's when our team in Georgia was like, We need tents, we need mattresses. We need blankets. And that's what I've been doing here. And immediately we started procurement of tents in Egypt. The first thing I did is I went to the sports shop, a dickathon, the sports shop, and I told them, How many tents do you have? Because they're for camping. They're already there. We can procure immediately.


We didn't buy these tents because there was a problem with them. To explain the problem, I should remind you that even before this war, for years now, Israel has controlled everyone and everything that went in and out of Gaza. Gaza is surrounded by a giant fence. As part of that, Israel restricted specific certain metals and chemicals and fabrics from entering Gaza because they said they didn't want them to fall into Hamas's hands and get turned into weapons against Israel or find some military use. There's an official list of restricted stuff.


With the tent is the fabric. There are certain type of fabrics that are not allowed. Then we were like, Okay, so it has materials that is not allowed, so we need to design our own tents. Then we needed to find a vendor who is willing to produce tents on certain specifications from scratch immediately. I mean, this vendor, I met him on the same day, and then I go back to him after four hours and I tell him I need 2,000 tents next week. Then immediately, six workshops in Cairo they start producing these tents.


Those will be done what day?


We're expecting the delivery next week.


Next week. Maybe in time for the ceasefire, maybe not. We were talking two days before the ceasefire started. But Saddam's organization, Inira, had a whole bunch of other stuff that was ready to go and enter Gaza. There's only one place to do that. Columbia, the Rafe crossing from Egypt into Gaza. Saddam said the trucks could be delayed there for days, while Egyptian and Israeli officials each inspect the trucks to make sure that they are, in fact, filled with humanitarian aid. It is never clear how many of these trucks will make it through or if any of you get through. Israel used to do these inspections at a big checkpoint called Karem Shalom. It was fully equipped to handle lots of inspections, but that checkpoint has been closed since the war started. The raffle crossing just isn't set up for a high volume of trucks. Saddam and other people trying to get humanitarian aid into Gaza understand all of that, but still do not understand the delays they see from day to day. It seems arbitrary to them.


Just yesterday, 79 trucks got in. But to give you a comparison, on a normal day before the war, it would have been 500 trucks a day. It's shocking that only 79 trucks yesterday got in. Some of these, there were zero trucks going in.


Saddam, why are so few trucks getting through?


This is a question Enera I've been asking all along. We can't find the answer. We don't know the answer.


We reached out repeatedly to Israeli authorities to find out why more trucks aren't getting through the one checkpoint that they've allowed into Gaza. But we never got a reply. One of Saddam's trucks, full of aid, get into Gaza. They faced another problem before the ceasefire when we first talked. Other trucks inside Gaza were supposed to take the aid to where it needed to go inside Gaza, and those trucks needed fuel.


Fuel been lacking for over two weeks. There is no fuel inside Gaza. So Anaira have been very creative. We've been using trolleys, we've been using livestock, donkeys, horses to deliver the aid.


Wait, you're using horses and donkeys to deliver international aid?


This is what is needed. Imagine there is no fuel. Imagine the size of Gaza.


The ceasefire started the day after Thanksgiving. Obviously, that is not how the participants viewed that particular date. The number of trucks crossing into Gaza with humanitarian aid roughly tripled. I talked to Saddam again on the seventh day of the ceasefire, the last day. He told me his organization, Nnera, got more aid delivered in those seven days than it had in the two months of war before that.


That's actually what makes me really sad is that we can get more and more aid in. But these inspections, delays, as of November 29th, at least 572 trucks were waiting on the road connecting the Egyptian and Israeli crossing for the Israeli inspection of each truck takes hours.


Saddam, did your tents get across?


Not yet.


Production delays, he said. Quality issues. He's hoping they'll be ready next week. A day after that conversation, the ceasefire ended. Now it's unclear exactly what it's going to be like next week and whether he's going to be able to get stuff through. The first night the war resumed, my coworker, one of our producers, Miki Mik and I spoke with Zulia Tuma, Director of Communications at the UN, the UN-Palestine Refugee Agency, which runs the shelters across Gaza that are housing now over a million people. That is, by the way, the UN agency that's had more of its staff killed than any UN mission in any conflict in the history of the United Nations. It's been 111 deaths in Gaza since October. Julia Tuma said that no trucks entered Kazakhstan that first day. Not one. After the pause in the war.


No humanitarian assistance, no fuel, no cooking gas has come into Gaza today and the bombardments.


And the.


Airstrikes from the Israeli forces have continued across the Gaza Strip, including in the south.


The supplies that you were able to deliver during the pause, do you guys have any estimate for how long the supplies you have can last? Is it days? Is it weeks?


It's usually days.


I don't think it's weeks.


What are you hearing from staff who are in Gaza today?


Fear, concern. We are back to.


Square zero.


Which is really not good. Our colleagues, many of.




Were displaced themselves.


Many have lost.


Loved ones, lost.


Property, including homes.


Do you have any sense? Today, nothing got through. Do you have any sense of what the days are going to be like ahead of how much aid is going to get through? I wish on you. I wish on you. So it's day by day. Well, sometimes even hour by hour, I would say. There's so much.


Uncertainty out there.


So much.


Everything they've been able to get into Casa is nowhere close to what's actually needed. The needs are so immense. Today in our program, what happens when people desperately need help, need rescue, and the cavalry simply cannot rush in and save the day and fix everything? When that happens, people get ingenious, people invent little solutions. People do that thing where you stop thinking about the big picture because the big picture is way too grim and you just do the next task in front of you and then the next one after that and the next one after that, hoping it all helps, at least a little, is a very particular experience. From W. B. Z. Chicago, this is American Life. I'm Eric Glass.


Stay with us.


That's one. Series is a heart attack. Let's kick things off with this man who's trying to do something that is so hard to do and he knows very well that it is completely up to him. The cavalry is not coming and he's figuring out how to hang on and make the best of things. He talked to Nancy, Uptag.


It's just normal now in America for people to start a GoFundMe campaign if they have medical bills. The insane bills have become routine, so the insane DIY process of raising the money has also become routine. You'd be insane not to. But several weeks ago, I saw a new development in the field, new to me anyway. The CEO of a hospital had started a GoFundMe campaign to try and save the hospital. It's called BuckTail Medical Center, and the CEO is Tim Reeves. Tim says dire things in a calm voice. When we got on the phone and I asked him how quickly the hospital might close, he said.


I have put aside in different accounts enough money for one payroll. Trying to keep that two-week payroll in reserve, I hope, buys us two weeks. But I can't guarantee that.


Bucktail Medical Center, this hospital, is a small, single-storey, concrete building, serving a bit more than 3,000 people in Renovau, Pennsylvania. It's the middle, north-ish part of the state, a lot of big forests and hunting land around there. Bucktail is the only hospital in the county. It's got a community clinic, 24-hour emergency room, ambulance service, 16 beds for acute care, and a small on-site nursing home. The next closest hospital is 40 miles away. The next closest emergency room is 34 miles away. And 34 miles is not an unbearably long ride, except for somebody having an emergency.


We have a local guy. Our nursing staff know, when they see him pull into our parking lot, they call Life Flight because they know that he's having a heart attack. The only time he shows up is when he's having a heart attack. He is not going to make it down the road. We have a fair population of rattled snakes here.


Wow, I didn't expect you to say that.


Yeah, so we had a person come in with a battle snake bite on his hand that spanned almost the entire width of his hand. It was a big snake. Yikes. I always have two doses of antivenin on hand and a dose of four vials. We got him the first four vials, put him in a helicopter, flew him out. He got like 28 more vials of antivenin. If we were not here, that guy would be dead. He would not have survived the trip to Lockhaven.


When Tim takes a break from worrying about patients, he thinks about his staff, 85 people who would lose jobs if the hospital closed. The hospital is one of the bigger employers in that half of the county. So how does the hospital get to the point where they're setting up a GoFundMe to stay in business? A few months ago, BuckTail was hit with a couple of big financial setbacks, one after another. There were some federal money that didn't come through that they've been counting on. Also, some money the state says it overpaid them and now wants to take back. Those two hits put the hospital over $600,000 in the hole. Add to that all the things that can make it hard to keep any small, rural hospital open, small patient population, and none of the specialties that can bring in a lot of money like cardiac care, neurology. Also, insurance doesn't cover BuckTail's costs. Most of the hospital's patients are on Medicare or Medicaid. The hospital breaks even with Medicare patients. Medicaid, they lose money. But they also lose money on private insurance because small hospitals don't have the leverage to negotiate decent reimbursement rates the way big hospitals do.




Says BuckTail needs $1.5 million to make it through the fiscal year. He and the leadership team at BuckTail have drawn up a plan they believe can stabilize the hospital in the long term. But the short term lack of money is clobbering them. And so Tim is open to any idea about how to get money. Any idea, any amount of money. The GoFundMe, which has raised about $16,000, was a board member's idea. The board is all volunteers who live in the community. The staff of the hospital is pitching in.


Our staff are looking for ways to do fundraisers. Right now, they're working in conjunction with one of the local fire departments to do a bingo with a $1,000 cash prize. They've gone out and they've gotten sponsors to put up the money for that prize, as well as money to donate towards the facility. All that money will come to us. Our sewage authority has offered not to bill us for the next three months. The water company is not going to bill us for the next couple of quarters. We had a company that donated two new tires installed on our ambulance.


And these are because of calls that you're making or calls that other people and staff are making or a combination?


It's definitely a combination.


Tim has an Excel spreadsheet that's a list of everything he and leadership team are working on to try and save the hospital. Tim checks it every day, adds ideas, updates. It's 40 rows long and counting. I'm just going to read a few. Line three, implement CT. The hospital bought a CAT scan machine because patients have been going elsewhere to get CAT scans and Bucktail wants to keep those patients. Line 35, Oak Ridge lumber. Years ago, someone donated a bunch of land to the hospital, the side of a mountain. A lumber company recently asked him if they could drive through that land to reach other land where they were going to cut down trees for lumber. Tim said, Hey, see if you want to buy any of our trees on our land for lumber. We will sell them to you. Line 20, electronic sign. This is part of an effort to get more patients in the door.


Where the hospital is located physically is off the beaten path. If you drive through the middle of Renovau, unless you know where the hospital is at, you won't see it.


The sign is not for locals. The hospital has been in that location for decades. It's for out-of-towners.


We have thousands of camps, private camps up here. People will come in for hunting season or fishing season or for summer vacations or to get away for a weekend or whatever it is. The electronic sign, we hope, is a way that we can start to convey some of that information to people that are driving through the middle of town.


An electronic sign, bingo, donated tires, lumber, a GoFundMe. I feel like this is one of those local TV stories about a plucky person who is trying to solve, through sheer gumption, a problem they shouldn't even have.


Like, look.


This hero is walking eight miles each way to a job because there's no public transportation where he lives. How great is this guy? The biggest chunk of money Tim's gotten so far is an advance on a payment the hospital is supposed to get next year. $189,000. A lot of money, unless you're trying to run a hospital.


Sleep is difficult. There are many, many days when I get home and I'm just emotionally exhausted.


Are you getting any sleep?




The day before Thanksgiving, I got Tim's weekly email update that he sends out to a bunch of people. It said, quote, We had a meeting with the staff this afternoon at three o'clock. The meeting today was more difficult than meetings we've had in the past. Likewise, this is the most difficult update I have provided. Until today, I've been able to report that the next payroll is covered. I could not provide that assurance today. He said he had no idea how they could continue providing services past December first. He said, quote, We are out of time without some temporary support. I thought about an earlier conversation I'd had with Tim. We were on the phone and I was looking over a copy of a letter he'd sent to elected officials laying out what's happening at BuckTail. One line stopped me short. I just got to the line where you say, I have personally provided the facility with an interest-free loan. Oh, my goodness, Tim.


The only people that know are the people in the business office who had to process it in the board of directors.


Does your wife know? Yeah. Is she worried about that?


Is she worried about it? Yes. Am I worried about it? Yeah. But it was necessary to get over a hurdle.


Can I ask how much?


Fifty thousand.


Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. I mean, if the hospital goes under, would you get that back?




Oh, my God, Tim.


I want to be optimistic that we're going to find a solution. I asked myself a little while ago, if I had to make that decision again, would I make the same decision and the answers? Yes.


To loan the money. Yep.




Week, payroll is due. At the last minute, the hospital managed to expedite an insurance reimbursement, and they will be able to pay the staff after all. What that means for Tim is he's got another two week increment to work on Plan A fighting to keep the hospital open. But he's had to add a line to the spreadsheet for Plan B. It's line 48, closure.


Nancy Uptyke, is a senior editor on our program.




Up, okay, sure, there are places where people hope that the federal government is going to swoop in with millions of dollars and fix everything. But what if you are the federal government? What do you hope for them? Answers from some actual federal employees that's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues. This is American life, Myer of Glass. Each week on our show, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme, today's show, The Cavalry is not coming. Stories about all the things you do, some of them clever, some of them angry. When you realize that no one is going to show up to rescue you, we have arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, or don't. So if you want to immigrate to the United States from another country, okay, there are a bunch of ways to do that. But the big one for people wanting to cross from the southern border into the United States is the asylum program. For most people, that is the only legal pathway if they want to stay here.


Asylum means not just coming here to get a better job or have a better life in some way, they have to show that they are running from some danger or persecution back home. This all comes out of post-World War II, idealism, this law, this idea that the United States can and should give refuge to people fleeing oppression. Under President Trump, as you probably remember, it became a lot harder to get asylum. We had a story back then during his administration about the people who do the first screenings of asylum applicants at the United States Citizen and Immigration Services, USCIS. These people are asylum officers. Back then, they told us that from their point of view, President Trump was keeping out all kinds of people who should have been allowed into the country. They said they yearned for some cavalry to ride in some new president to change things, save the day. Now, of course, they have a new president in Joe Biden, and things have not gone the way these officials hope for. One of our producers, Nadia Raymond, talked to a whole different bunch of U. S. C. I. S. Officials recently. These are people who work in the asylum and refugee branches and got this window into the whole immigration system that you don't usually get.


But here's Nadia.


Let me start the story the way we have to start so many asylum stories by explaining what the hell the people who work in these jobs actually do. The ones I talked to were all asylum officers at some point, and here's what that looks like. They sit in an office on the phone for hours with asylum seekers and an interpreter on the line. They're asking questions, hearing brutal stories from people who recently crossed the border about what they're fleeing. Venezuelan political activists are escaping the government, Cameroonians fleeing violence, Salvadoran families escaping gangs. The officers have to determine whether the migrants they're talking to could get legal protection here under US law and whether they could face harm or even death if they got sent back to their home country. It's not for the faint of heart, but it is more for the bleeding-heart crowd than the enforcement crowd. These aren't the tough-guy cops you often find in the Border Patrol. Lots of them work for the Peace Corps, lots of people with immigration law background or human rights. They understand that their decisions in these cases can dictate whether someone lives or dies, and every one of them I've ever talked to feels the weight of that.


It's a moral duty to them, not just a 9:00 to 5:00. After four years of President Trump dismantling the asylum and refugee programs and calling their work a con, they felt desperate for a change. Then in the months before the 2020 election, in a random press event, Joe Biden cut their ear for the first time because of the way he started talking about asylum seekers.


We're going to restore.






Standing in the.


World and our.


Historic role as a safe haven for.


Refugees and asylum seekers. Those fleeing violence and persecution.


My Lord.


We've never made asylum seekers.


Seek asylum outside the United States of America. Making asylum seekers wait outside the US. That's a Trump policy that these USCIS workers hated. To them, this was a signal, like Biden was nodding at them, paying attention to their corner of the sandbox. When Joe Biden won, their hopes were modest. The new immigration was never one of his big issues. But hey, at least he'd set things back on a better course.


Well, at least we'll go back to what we had in the Obama administration. We're going to return to normalcy. We're going to return to an immigration system that's atI'm bad in many ways, but we're not going to go out of our way to hurt people.


That's an asylum officer I'm going to call Mark, not his real name. Also not his real voice. You'll hear voice actors instead of the immigration officials themselves. Imitating their voices and inflections as closely as possible. Because these folks are not supposed to talk to the press, they could get fired. That's also why I can't tell you a lot about Mark or any of the others you'll hear. What I can say is that Mark is precise and overall a curmudgeon. Once Biden won, Mark says he and his colleagues expected that pretty early on he'd end something called Title 42. Title 42 was a public health order that had basically closed the Southern border to prevent the spread of COVID. It allowed US border officers to expel migrants back into Mexico with no legal formalities, no questions asked hours after they were caught. The Trump administration put it in place when the pandemic hit. Asylum and refugee officers thought this was illegal because it prevented people from even being able to ask for asylum. Mark and his coworkers were like, Easy, Trump activated. Biden could just deactivate it. The person I talked to who was the most optimistic about the whole thing is a US CIS official I'm going to call George.


He's been at the agency through many administrations. He watches the first weeks of the Biden administration roll by, nothing, but George wasn't bothered.


Actually, I ran into a coworker, and we were like, Oh, these advocates are all mad that we haven't ended Title 42 yet. We at least need a few weeks to plan it out. I understand they can't do it immediately, but they'll do it soon enough. It will be fine.


So how did it go?


Not well, Nadia Raymond. Not well. Yeah, I would say I started to get very concerned and very suspicious around the first time they had the opportunity to end Title 42, and they decided to extend it.


This was back in 2021, around August. Back then, we had a huge wave of people showing up at the border. Lots of them thought, Okay, Trump's gone. Biden sounds more friendly. Maybe now I have a chance to get in. By keeping Title 42, President Biden could keep them from crossing into the US. Every USCIS official I talked to heard the same story George did about why the administration made that choice.


Political operators at the White House became convinced that it was bad for the President for the TV to show what would be characterized as chaos.


At the border.


I asked the White House if this is why the President kept Title 42 going and not public health concerns. They said it was the CDC's call, not the President's. The USCIS workers I talked to didn't buy this. In fact, Georgia remembers how the Biden administration doubled down on this argument when the ACLU sued the government over Title 42.


And then you had them making these absurd public statements that were parading the things the Trump administration was saying about Title 42, which Democrats laughed at and dismissed when Trump was in office. But when they, Oh, we have nothing to do with this. This is a CDC order. This is related to public health, not immigration.


Keeping Title 42 going as long as they did was a what the hell moment for the U. S. C. I. S. Workers, a turning point. Seeing all these people trying to seek asylum stuck outside our borders because of Title 42 made these workers feel angry and lonely, like they were the only witnesses to a bridge collapsing while everyone else looked the other way. This next person I'll call Lisa. She works in refugee services. She was also the only official who didn't swear during our interview. I mean, I stopped talking about it with my friends and family, to be honest. You did? Yeah, because all it does is work. All it would do is work me up into a frenzy, a frustration. They can only listen to it for so much, especially when they all, too, are under this illusion that, Oh, but isn't it so much better? Oh, we understand and remember how horrible it was under the Trump administration, but isn't it so much better? And you want to say like, Yeah, it's better. We're not under full-level destruction attack, but also promises were made and they're not happening and people are still living in refugee camps on the southern side of the border and no one is doing anything to help them.


You just you feel like you can't talk to the regular world about it anymore. In the end, it took President Biden over a year to try to end Title 42. And when he did it, Texas sued and stopped him. Title 42 remained in place until May of this year. It was there through half of President Biden's term. So in those first two years of the Biden administration, lots of people were being turned away at the border. But at the same time, incredibly, lots of other people were being allowed in. Mostly Venezuelans and Cubans, Nicaraguan, Haitians, some Haitians. More than a million migrants were allowed into the US in two years. Why did this happen? Take Venezuela, for example. The US didn't have good diplomatic relationships with Venezuela, so we couldn't fly Venezuelans back to their country when they showed up at the border. And Mexico didn't want them waiting on their side, which meant the Biden administration was stuck. They had to figure out what to do. And the solution they came up with for Venezuela and all these countries was temporary. All the immigrants that came in, the more than a million, most are here on temporary permits, officially allowed to stay for a while till things in their home countries cool down.


At first, this was an ad-hoc thing the Biden administration did, a bit under the radar just to relieve pressure at the border. There had been dangerous overcrowding at border patrol stations. Later, this became a more official program they proudly point to as proof that they stand up for humanitarian ideals. But one of the officials I talked to pointed out temporary status can funnel a lot of people away from getting asylum, which is permanent. Whatever their intentions, by January of this year, the Biden administration had made two main parallel tracks for immigrants. Tons of people coming in with temporary statuses. Tons of others kept out by Title 42. That's when the CDC announced the public health crisis was officially over. Title 42 had to end. Which is great news for these USCIS workers, right? Just what they've been waiting for. As they sit in their offices, they wonder what the plan is, how they're supposed to handle what may be large numbers of new asylum applicants. The last day of Title 42 keeps looming closer and closer, and these workers are hearing nothing. Then some rumblings. Then when I heard that they were going to drop a new rule, I was like, Of course, they are.


The new rules spelled out, for the first time, how the Biden administration wanted to run asylum at the Southern border for now. An original policy of their own to handle the crowds of people they expected would cross the border once Title 42 ended. The rule is called CLP, which stands for circumvention of lawful pathways. The rule was not just any rule. It's like a Swiss Army knife. Many different rules all rolled into one. But the part that jumped out to these U. S. Cis workers the most is that under the rule, in order to even apply for asylum, you have to show that you already applied for asylum and got denied in at least one country you've passed through before getting to the US. So if you came up from South America, you went through Panama, then Costa Rica, then Nicaragua, then Honduras, then El Salvador, then Guatemala, then Mexico, you would have to apply for asylum and be denied in at least one of those. If you don't have proof of this, you are not eligible for asylum here. It doesn't matter what you're fleeing in your home country. Your government could be actively trying to kill you and your family because you're a political activist.


Clear cut asylum claim, not relevant anymore. You basically won't get asylum in the US because these other countries didn't reject you first. The US-CIS workers I talked to were floored by this. They were like, Whoa, that's basically something President Trump tried to put in place. But the court struck it down quickly, said it was illegal. Now here was President Biden bringing it back or something that looked a lot like it. It was mind-blowing. It's the same. Yeah, they tweaked it around the corners. And the people who had to work on writing that rule, I mean, Jeez, I can't even imagine to be the one who was told, Yeah, we did that rule and we know that it's illegal, but let's try this one.


Now, this is pretty clearly unlawful.


At this point, George takes out a thick book, very official looking. It's a bound copy of the Immigration and Nationality Act he just happened to have around the house. Youll, as one does.


I mean, let's just read the asylum statute, right? Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States.


Whether or not- Basically, this says anyone who arrives here in any way legally or illegally can apply for asylum.


And so what circumvention of lawful pathway says is, Yeah, sure, you can apply, but we're going to say you're ineligible.


I reached out to one of the administration officials who oversees CLP, Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Border Policy, Blas Nunez Neto. I asked him how CLP is different from President Trump's asylum ban, which had been ruled illegal.


The Trump.


Administration approach to this was to impose a categorical ban on asylum at.


The land border.


He's saying their ban was categorical. It applied to everyone, no exceptions. So we're not denying asylum categorically to anybody at the land border, and that's just a fact and.


Something that is important for your audience.


To understand. What we have done.




Essentially create what we call a rebuttable presumption. That's important because it is, in fact, rebuttable. That means that people who cross between the ports of entry and have a compelling reason why they needed to do that can rebut the presumption. We're seeing.


Many people do.


That in practice. A rebuttable presumption. That means CLP starts off assuming you're ineligible for asylum. But don't worry, you can prove it wrong. You can rebut. Like, immediately, right there on the spot when you talk to an asylum officer. Prove it wrong and then poof, it's gone. It doesn't apply to you anymore. There's a list of ways to rebut the rule. First, it doesn't apply to unaccompanied minors. Or if you're sick and you need medical care, that's an exception. Or if you're being trafficked, another thing that negates the rule. Or if you're in imminent danger, if someone is actively trying to kill you there at the border, that's an exception for, quote, Extreme and imminent threat to life or safety, which all sounds reasonable enough. But the officers I spoke with and people I talk to who work with migrants along the border, they all say it's really, really ridiculously difficult to get one of these exceptions or rebuttals. An attorney I talked to from the Texas Civil Rights Project, said she's known of cases where the medical emergency rebuttal is so hard to get. It takes so long that migrants have gotten sicker and sicker and have died waiting for it.


Mark says that when he's interviewing asylum seekers and trying to apply these CLP rules, he doesn't like where it leads him and who he ends up rejecting.


The consequences of getting things wrong, the stakes are extremely high. When you get it wrong, people will die. And it's not hyperbole, that's not being hysterical. That is a fact. It is life-or-death decisions. Every single one of them. You cannot afford to get them wrong. And what CLP does is.




Forces you to make incorrect decisions. And you have to take that seriously. Obviously.


The latest numbers from the government tell us that only 16 % of asylum seekers who were caught crossing the border were able to prove they qualified for one of the CLP exceptions or rebuttals, which means 84 % of4% were not able to prove it. They could be deported. Many US CIS workers complained to leadership about this from the start. That's why they hated CLP. The response, according to George.


Oh, I know some of you may disagree with this rule, and it may make you feel uncomfortable, blah, blah, blah, and this is the job. Then they'll say, You can always quit. They really don't care. They're really channeling their inner Martin Lawrence saying, Don't let the doorknob hit you where the dog should have bit you. At the end of the day, they're not interested in your moral or legal objections. Shut the fuck up. Put your head down and do what you're told.


I think if the administration were telling the story of CLP, they wouldn't start with the new restrictions on asylum at the border. They'd probably emphasize a different part of the rule. It's a whole new way they're enticing people to cross at the official border stations in an orderly way instead of something more dangerous like waiting across a river or walking through the desert. It's an app. Yes, they have an app. It's called CBP One, and the government has big hopes for it. When the Biden administration rolled out CLP, they announced that this app was the way everyone in the Southern border should apply for asylum. This was going to be the new system. You can get an appointment to enter the US, and it assigns you a port of entry to show up to at a specific time, like come to Matamoro's on October 30th at 6:00 PM. As an incentive to encourage you to use the app, if you download it and use it and you come in and ask for asylum, asylum. All the other CLP rules that keep people out, they don't apply to you. It doesn't matter whether you ask for asylum in other countries before you got here.


You don't need to be in a medical emergency or have someone chasing you, threatening your life. It's like a golden ticket. Use the app, apply for asylum, period. I know how bonkers this sounds. On the one hand, President Biden created this weird, trumpy policy that makes it practically impossible to even ask for asylum in some ways. But on the other hand, you can sidestep all of that and just come into the United States if you have a phone and can download an app. This has been described as a carrot and stick approach. They want to reward people for using the CPP One app and coming in through official ports of entry, and they want to penalize everyone else. Having an app does seem smart. Migrants all have phones. They use apps all the time. But I'm sure this next part will not surprise you. The app didn't work so well. From the very start of CLP this past May, it went off the rails. First of all, there were not a lot of appointments available. About 750 a day for the whole border. So migrants would wait for the appointments to open up, try to get one, and the app would crash.


There were error messages that people didn't understand that prevented people from making appointments, like one that just said fraud that continues to this day. One review of the app just reads, This app is crap. Though half the reviews seem to be right wing trolls posting things like, open door policy. Thanks, Brandon.




Come on in front row VIP seats for all the drug smuggling human trafficking criminals that need a new stomping ground. When the app did work, there were the wait times. A woman who works at a shelter in Reinosa told me she talked to a family that had been waiting for four months for their appointment. Same with Matamotos and Tijuana. The problem with waiting, besides that it sucks to wait, is that the cartels are at the border looking to rob and kidnap asylum seekers who were stuck there. So many people just make a run for it without their golden ticket. They cross the border anywhere they can. Mark laid out for me a pretty typical case that he says he gets often.


For example, you're hanging out in Mexico. You're planning on getting your CBP-1 appointment, but they get snapped up every day, so you're waiting around. And then in the months that you're waiting in Montemorous or wherever else, you get kidnapped, held for ransom. They make calls to your family members using your cell phone asking for however much money, otherwise, they're going to kill you. Your family scroundsers up whatever they can get to pay them. They pay them. You get released, you get dumped off on the side of the road somewhere, and you now have no money because they've robbed you. They've taken all your travel documents. They've taken everything that you had with you. So how are you going to support yourself in this border town while you wait to get a CBP-1 appointment on the phone that you no longer have? So you decide, I can't do this anymore. I got across in the United States.


Mark asked me, Did I think that migrant was in extreme danger? Enough to get a rebuttal to the CLP rules and be allowed to apply for asylum? It sounds like it, yeah.


Well, that's not how it works. That person is not eligible for that rebuttal because you have to demonstrate that your life or safety was in imminent danger at that exact moment when you cross into the United States. So unless that or whoever kidnapped you is nipping on your heels as you dive into the water, you are not eligible for that rebuttal.


This is a USCIS worker I will call Joanna. She's been doing this job for a while. It's like this whole completely nonsensical idea that you have to be actually running through the desert and trying to wage your way across the Rio Grande while bullets are flying over your head, right? I mean, it's just I feel like these laws and ideas are written by people who have watched way too many World War II movies. Like too many episodes of Narcos or something. Yeah, too many episodes of Narcos or like, I don't know. But that's not how it works. Stepping back and looking at the big picture, most of the people entering from our southern border are not using the CPP One app. In October, it was about 188,000 people who got caught between ports of entry versus about 44,000 who use the app, which means most people face the restrictions and the rules that make it so hard to ask for asylum. The USCIS officials they spoke to said, Under President Biden, the way CLP is written, it sounds like there are all these ways you can still apply for asylum. But in practice, it's just as bad as it was under President Trump because CLP denies so many people the chance at asylum at all.


I asked Assistant Secretary Nunez Neto if President Biden's policy is just as restrictive as President Trump's. What we are doing is a completely different and balanced approach to this issue that again includes an unprecedented expansion in lawful pathways and processes for people to come to the country while at the same time putting some common sense constraints on the ability to claim asylum at the border for individuals at.


The land.


Border between ports of entry who don't have a compelling reason why they needed to cross unlawfully between our ports of entry. But in practice, what we're hearing on the ground is that people who... That it's incredibly hard to prove the exceptions and rebuttals, that people that try to prove an exception or rebuttal that has to do with medical emergencies, for example, have died waiting for such an exception or a rebuttal. And doesn't it, in effect, at the end, doesn't it disqualify a lot of people from even asking for asylum? Hey, just really quick. I'm so sorry I need to interrupt. Are we.


Still on the record here?


At that point, Assistant Secretary Nunez Nato's press person interrupted us. They'd agreed to answer only one question about CLP on the record. I saw this as a normal follow-up to clarify. They disagreed. They said they were limited on what they could say because of ongoing lawsuits about the rule. The key phrase in what he said was a balanced approach. Administration officials I've talked to say that this mish-mash of new rules and exceptions to those rules and everything else I've described, they say when you put it all together, you'll see them trying to balance the humanitarian principles they say they hold dear with the fact that they need to weed out dubious asylum claims. I think what's happening is there's a humanitarian crisis. So many people arriving at the border and a backlog of nearly three million immigration cases already, that the administration had to figure out something to do with the tens of thousands of people showing up each week. They're scared of looking soft on immigration, but they also don't want to be anti-immigrant. They don't think of themselves as anti-immigrant. They ended up with this contradictory hodgepodge, letting in over a million people for humanitarian reasons, but that's just temporary relocation, or setting up CLP rules that are both deeply restrictive and surprisingly unrestrictive.


Of course, it's a mess. Clp is currently being challenged in court in two separate federal cases. The ACLU is suing the Biden administration in both, saying that CLP makes it too hard for people to apply for asylum in violation of the law. The asylum officers' union has filed two AMICA's briefs, one for each of the lawsuits, saying they agree. They represent about 1,000 asylum officers. Assistant Secretary Nunez Neto told me, The administration is confident the rule is legal. There's one phrase that one of the officers, Joanna, used that stuck with me. She said, The Overtone window has shifted, which means the window of political acceptability has changed. The goalposts have moved because of Trump's strategy on asylum, where the goal, according to Joanna, was to kill the asylum program, allow no one in, give no protection. When the Biden administration created CLP, Joanna thinks they cosigned on the idea of let's just not anymore, just with a different tone. If you look at it now that you have seen the Biden administration in action in asylum, what things are you like, yes, they actually have made some changes. Here's where it's different, and here is where it's the same as how it was under Trump.


Okay, well, they don't pull babies away from mother's arms. I guess you get a sticker or a cookie. Yay, for you. They talk about it differently. Yeah, that's really important. Democrats don't call countries shithold countries. They just they treat them like shithold countries. But I think with the Biden administration, you have a pretense at protection that the Trump people didn't do. There's something just like... Right? Do you think it's worse than it was under Trump?


I mean, it's very bad and very similar, but it's a different kind.


What do you mean a different kind?


So, you know, what's... What is worse? Someone who's direct in doing something bad or someone who dresses up a little nicer and puts a better face on it, but still does pretty much the same thing.


I think we'll look back on the first two years of the Biden administration in the future and identify this as an inflection point when we just stop the pretense of having an asylum system that comports with our legal obligations under international and federal law.


Maybe that's the real bipartisan agreement at this point. Our brand. This system that we built to function as our own idealistic cavalry to protect people who are fleeing for their lives. Both parties seem to have decided that we don't need to do that anymore. Instead of looking at why you're coming to the US and judging that on its merits, now we'll block you because of how you came to the US. Whether you use the CBP One app, whether you ask for asylum from countries along the way. If you're the most vulnerable, the most in need of rescuing, our asylum system, as it stands, may no longer save you.


Naddy Raymond is an editor on our program. Julia Preston helped us out as a consulting editor on this story.


I've been down to the point of nothing, looking for someone to.


Bring me around.


I'm looking through the.


Country, doing the outside dance.


You all asked me to get along.


Would you.




That chance? Help us all.


Help us all.


Help us all.




Us all. Help us all. Our program.


Is produced today by Meeky Meek. The people who put together today's show include James Bennett II, Fia Benans, Susan Burton, Sean Cole, Michael Comethe, Andrea Lopez, Crasado, Cassie Haley, Valerie Kipness, Seth Lin, Stone Nelson, Catherine Raymondo, Alyssa Shipp, Lily Spiegel, Lars Starchesky, Lily Sullivan, Krista Robertson-Texter, Matt Tierney, and Diane Woe, our managing editor, Sara Abduramin, our senior editor, David Kirstenbaum, our executive editor is Emmanuel Barry, voice actors for our asylum story in Act Two: Evan Johnnokite, Jake Lacey, Hannah Gross, and Abby Elliot. Special thanks today to Ella Mustafa, Sabrinna Hyman, Michael Noles from the US CIS Employees Union, the Migration Policy Institute, Aaron Reichland Melnik, Holly Webb, Cassandra Gonzales, Dana Lee Marks, Aaron Heiter, Michael Mascara, Catherine Mattingly, and Lake Glernt, our website, thisamericanlife. Org, where you can stream our archive of over 800 episodes for absolutely free. Also, there is merch for the podcast slash public radio loving nerds in your life and your holiday shopping needs. Again, thisamericanlife. Org. This American Life has delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our show's co-founder, Mr. Tori Maltia. Some woman was flirting with him in a bar last weekend.


She asked if he wanted to go home with her. He gave her a blank stare. She asked if he had protection. He said, Of course.


I always have two doses of anti-venin on hand.


I'm Aaron Gloss. Back next week with more stories of this American life. Next week on the podcast of this American Live, Ja-Yang had this theory that because she spent so much time thinking about her own accent when she speaks English, she believed that when she hears other Chinese Americans speak, she can tell how old they were when they immigrated to the United States. To test this, we created a.


Game show.


How are you feeling? Are you feeling confident?


I'm feeling a bit of trepidation.


I have to admit. An episode unlike anything we have ever done or anything we have ever heard of anybody else doing. Stories all done as game shows. Next week on the podcast or in your local public radio station.