Virginia congressman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) called for investigations into the asylum claims of Mexican citizens seeking to escape that country’s catastrophic drug war. According to Huffington Post, Goodlatte said that too many asylum seekers have been “coached” about what to say to U.S. officials and he believes they’re lying when they say that to remain in Mexico puts them at risk for their lives.
“I am concerned that credible fear claims are being exploited by illegal immigrants in order to enter and remain in the United States,” he wrote in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A finding of “credible fear” of returning to one’s country on the part of an asylum seeker is the first step to in the process of seeking asylum.
Citing statistics that Huffington Post noted were from “unspecified press accounts,” Goodlatte said that the number of asylum seekers appearing at U.S. borders and points of entry is “increasing exponentially” and that most people who initiate requests for asylum never complete the process.
Huffington Post said that according to the DHS, 91 percent of requests to the U.S. for asylum by Mexican nationals are denied, but not necessarily because the claims are fraudulent. Legal experts say that the bar for a successful asylum claim is inordinately high, and applicants can sit in legal limbo for long periods of time.
“Most people who get these credible fear interviews, even if they pass, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be released,” said immigration attorney David Leopold to the AP. “You could be sitting in detention for months and months until you get your asylum hearing, and then you’re denied and sent back.”
To gain asylum in the U.S., an applicant must establish that he or she is being persecuted because of race, religion, political view, nationality or membership in a particular social or political group. They must also demonstrate that the government of their country of origin cannot or will not protect them from that persecution.
The U.S. government generally does not equate fear of criminal violence as persecution. The L.A. Times reported in 2012 that immigration officials often don’t rate people fleeing drug violence as being any more persecuted than anyone else living in Mexico.
Drug war violence in Mexico has claimed an estimated 700,000 lives since 2006, when the country’s former President Felipé Calderon turned the country’s military on the powerful drug cartels operating within the country’s borders. New President Enrique Peña Nieto stated earlier this week that he intends to continue to prosecute the cartels as enemies of the Mexican state.