The process of political asylum in the United States has been used for decades as a way to obtain protection against deportation. Starting in the early 80’s it has been utilized by Central Americans during the bloody civil wars of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Increasingly,however, the phenomenon experienced in the 80’s within the Central American community can now be seen mirrored in the Mexican community. In fact, during the past two years, applications for political asylum have tripled in the United States.
This increase has come under criticism; Mexican citizens have been accused of abusively using asylum laws in order to stay in the United States. Yet though the exodus of Mexican citizens in the past was largely due to Mexico’s lack of economic opportunities, in the last five years the migration of Mexican citizens to the U.S. has also been due to the fear of being followed, kidnapped, and in many cases murdered.
There are well-documented dangers occurring on a regular basis throughout Mexico. The increase in recent years of Mexican citizens seeking asylum in the United States is further validated by the findings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) which found that from 2007 to 2011 the number of homicides in Mexico tripled, corresponding with the increase in asylum applications in the United States.
Many of the people who currently seek political asylum have seen their families murdered at the hands of organized crime and in many cases they themselves have been the recipient of death threats and extortion to the point that they no longer can work in their native country.
Currently, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the number of political asylum applications under “credible-fear” claims have tripled in the last two years (2012-2013). The process now requires that USCIS give an asylum applicant a pre-interview with an immigration officer upon arrival into the United States.
An applicant must submit their claim for asylum within one year of entering the United States or show extenuating circumstances for why the asylum claim is being filed late. The pre-interview is referred to as the “Credible Fear Interview,” in which the officer determines whether the applicant seeking political asylum has a valid fear for not wanting to return to their home country.
If the applicant is able to convince the officer of their “credible fear,” they will then have the opportunity to present their asylum case in front of an immigration judge in the following months. Many appear to their immigration hearing and present evidence to back up their claims for fear: articles about the raging violence in Mexico, death certificates of family members who were murdered due to said violence, hospital records showcasing the physical violence the applicant has suffered in Mexico, and even psychological evaluations regarding the trauma and stress suffered due to their experiences in Mexico. Thanks to this evidence, the percentage of asylum applications from Mexico that have been granted have risen in the last few years.
Are applicants abusing this type of defense? Maybe in some cases, information on how to stop a deportation quickly circulates among detainees, especially when an asylum application promises the possibility of getting a way to stay temporarily in the United States and see an immigration judge to plea your case. Some of these applicants disappear and ignore their court summoning, never presenting their case for asylum. In these circumstances, the immigration judge can simply mandate a deportation in their absence. The deportation order is then archived in the missing person’s file and in the future when said person tries to legalize their status, either through marriage to a U.S. Citizen or other means, they will be denied due to the prior in absentia order.
The group of applicants that do show up to their immigration hearing in front of a judge and are able to convince them of their fear of returning to Mexico will receive their asylum approval. In a year they will be eligible to apply for permanent residence (commonly referred to as a green card).
Proving an asylum’s credible fear standard is difficult to do and the percentage of approvals are low compared to the number of denials. Immigrants going this route should always seek legal advice from an accredited attorney who specializes in immigration before submitting any asylum application in order to truly analyze whether fighting for asylum is worth the time and money. If the likelihood of approval seems promising, an applicant has to work arduously in order to present strong and credible evidence in front of an immigration judge. Simply submitting an oral testimony without any actual proof, in many of the cases, generally leads to a denial of asylum and a deportation (removal) order.
Immigration Attorney Alma Rosa Nieto has been practicing immigration law for over twenty-nine years and is based out of Los Angeles, CA. She is the legal analyst for the Telemundo Network as well as other Spanish-speaking media outlets in the U.S. For more information visit her website at: www.almarosanieto.com or follow her on Facebook.