‘The Waiting Game’ Explores the United States’ Labyrinthine Asylum Process

By catherine lizette gonzalez Apr 23, 2018

ProPublica and WNYC joined forces to create a "newsgame" that takes users through the long, arduous process that thousands of immigrants fleeing from violence or persecution experience when they apply for asylum in the United States. “The Waiting Game," an interactive simulation released today (April 23), follows the day-to-day journey of five immigrants from Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea and Nepal.

Each story represents one of the five criteria for refugee status under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention: "race, religion, nationalist, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." The United States government adopted this definition in the Refugee Act of 1980 and has a legal obligation to provide protection for individuals who qualify as refugees.

But applying for asylum is a prolonged and daunting process that often takes three to four years, according to the accompanying ProPublica article, "How Asylum Works—And Doesn’t Work." Many asylum-seekers spend months or years waiting in detention facilities that cost Immigration and Customs Enforcement $2 billion a year to maintain. Throughout the asylum-seeking process, immigrants must relive and condense traumatic experiences into digestible narratives to convince a judge that their lives are in danger. In 2016, at least 180,000 new applications were filed; 20,455 applicants were granted asylum and 11,643 were denied, according to ProPublica.

Advocates told ProPublica that the backlog of asylum applications could be fixed if the federal government provided asylum-seekers with pro bono attorneys. Instead, the Trump administration has attempted to eliminate the process, depicting it as a system filled with "rampant fraud and abuse." Earlier this month, the Department of Justice established quotas for immigration judges to expedite deportations and froze the legal assistance program for immigrants facing deportation, as Colorlines reported.

As the Trump admnistration attempts to overhaul the asylum system, ProPublica and WNYC illustrate the uncertainty that comes with applying for refugee status in the United States by tracking minute details through the real life stories of asylum seekers and the people who work with them. With regards to the decision to present the findings as a game, the organizations said


A newsgame strives for the same level of research and foundation in reality as a traditional news story, and seeks to help players understand a complex issue by giving them a more personal and emotional experience. In the case of "The Waiting Game," we hope that a player understands the difficulties, dangers and precarious nature of seeking asylum in the United States by living the experience of an asylum seeker directly.

You can follow the journeys of five asylum-seekers via “The Waiting Game," here