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Tens of thousands of people cross the border every year in search of asylum in America. Who among them should get to stay?
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest a group of 43 Central American migrants, including children, on a roadside in McAllen, Texas, during a predawn patrol in late September

It is still dark out when Border Patrol agent Herman Rivera’s radio crackles to life. His fellow agents, posted nearby on levee roads above the Rio Grande, report movement along the border with Mexico in the dim predawn. As the first rays of sunlight creep across the horizon, the team bursts into action, charging down into the scrub, dodging bushes and ducking under low-hanging branches in pursuit of migrants. Helicopter blades whomp overhead. “I’ve got one over here,” an agent yells from a field where stalks of sugarcane tower over his head. “I’ve got two over here,” screams another. They emerge a beat later with a line of men in handcuffs. Elsewhere, agents discover four more migrants, three from China and one from Guatemala, hiding in thick underbrush.

But not all of those who come across the border with Mexico run or hide. Hours later, as the sun reaches its midday peak, Rivera stands overlooking the river, watching as two men climb into an inflatable raft and paddle toward the U.S. shore. He doesn’t call for backup—there will be no need to chase these two. They approach Rivera’s truck, smiling broadly. They are a father and son, both named Fredy, they explain. They’ve been traveling for 13 days from Nicaragua and say they can’t go back. In the simple words of those fleeing their homes in search of security—a language as old as human history itself—they ask for asylum in America.

For Rivera and the U.S. immigration system he serves, the Fredys pose a more complicated

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