Mexicans Facing Drug War Violence Could Seek Political Asylum in U.S.

Ed Barnes, Fox News, April 1, 2010

The spreading violence of the drug wars along the Mexican border may have one unintended consequence. It could upend efforts to curb illegal immigrants by giving Mexican border-crossers a tool they never had before: a valid claim for political asylum.

For decades, immigrants coming from Mexico were denied asylum because Mexico was a stable and relatively peaceful democracy. But that is changing now.

Last week, at least 30 Mexicans from the town of El Porvenir walked to the border crossing post at Fort Hancock, Texas, and asked for political asylum. Ordinarily, their claim would be denied as groundless, and they would be turned back. Instead, they were taken to El Paso, where they expect to have their cases heard.

No one doubts that they have a strong claim. Their town on the Mexican side of the border is under siege by one or more drug cartels battling for control of the key border crossing. According to Mike Doyle, the chief deputy sheriff of Hudspeth County, Texas, one of the cartels has ordered all residents of the town of 10,000 to abandon the city within the next month.

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Authorities fear that an incident might spark a mass exodus by the residents of El Porvenir that might cause them all to surge across the border at once.

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If political asylum is granted and made available to a large section of the Mexican population, immigration experts say, it could have implications far beyond El Porvenir. They say it could open the floodgates for a new wave of immigration from Mexico, much as allowing Chinese to seek political asylum because of China’s one-child policy created a huge migration when it happened. After that ruling, tens of thousands of Chinese boarded boats and planes and told immigration officials they were seeking asylum because they were allowed to have only one child. Most were granted immigration papers and allowed to stay. Even those who made spurious claims were granted a hearing and often simply disappeared.

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According to Shuya Ohno of Reform Immigration for America, even if hundreds or thousands of Mexicans sought asylum because of the drug wars, it is not likely that many would get it. “It is a hard case to make and very few succeed,” he said. “Often it requires that those committing repression or threatening harm admit to it.”

However, he said, it is likely if that if thousands of Mexicans made the claim, “it would stress the system incredibly” as well as delay their deportations. He said that the immigration court system is already overloaded and often staffed by volunteers just to keep it moving, and that if it was flooded with asylum claims it would be in danger of failing.

Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) {snip} said that making a political asylum claim available to Mexicans along the border could result in a swamping of the already overloaded system and bring it to a grinding halt. “Once an avenue of appeal is opened, then it will become used” he said. And not just by those who qualify, but by thousands who don’t.

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