Should U.S. Provide Asylum to Mexicans Fleeing Drug Violence?

Friday, January 03, 2014
Mexican mother and daughter seeking asylum in U.S. (photo: Elliiot Spagat, AP)

Drug-related violence in Mexico has spurred a dramatic increase in the number of those seeking asylum in the United States, leaving American officials to decide whether such threats are reason, or credible, enough to allow entry into the country.


The sheer numbers reveal just how dangerous life has become south of the border. Last year, 13,800 Mexicans requested asylum because of gun battles and murders brought on by cartels.


This year’s total more than doubled from 2012, reaching 36,000 asylum requests.


The law requires applicants to prove a “credible fear” of persecution in their country, on the basis of race, religion, or nationality. As many as 2,000 of these individuals have provided documentation to U.S. immigration officials that tell how bad things are back home. The asylum seekers have not themselves written these accounts. Instead, the letters were produced by a low-level Mexican bureaucrat in one drug-war-ravaged town.


C. Ramon Contreras, occupancy chief of La Ruana in Michoacán, Mexico, has tried to help residents flee the violence by cranking out letters that are “just verifying reality,” he told The New York Times.


“I’m trying to help,” he added. “People keep coming, telling me: ‘I’m afraid for me and my children. I need to go.’”


Contreras’ actions have embarrassed the Mexican government, which has failed to stem the cartel-driven bloodshed.


On the U.S. side, officials aren’t sure if all the letters baring his name are authentic, which makes it that much harder to judge asylum requests.


Families trying to relocate to the U.S. told the newspaper that some members have received asylum, while others have not—even though all of them used the same letter provided by Contreras.


Some believe there is no legal basis for granting asylum based on the dangers that exist in Mexico. “These people don’t have a legitimate claim,” former Treasury Department official Peter Nunez told The New York Daily News. “They’re not being persecuted by their government. They should seek the help of authorities for public safety claims. It’s not the American government’s role to do what the Mexican government cannot do.”


Indeed, most asylum requests are rejected by U.S. immigration judges. Last year only 1% of the claims were approved, granting asylum to just 126 people.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

A Civil Servant in Mexico Tests U.S. on Asylum (by Damien Cave, New York Times)

Fleeing Wrath of Vicious Cartels, Record-Breaking Numbers of Mexicans Seek Political Asylum in the U.S. (Deborah Hastings, New York Daily News)

Appeals Court Rules that Wealthy Landowners are a Legitimate Persecuted Class when Seeking Asylum (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

La Ruana, Village Besieged by Narcos (Michoacan) (by Buggs, Borderland Beat)


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