Can I Apply for U.S. Asylum If I'm From Mexico?

It is extremely difficult to gain asylum from Mexico. Here you will learn the reasons why.

Even though Mexico shares a border with the U.S., Mexican nationals account for very few of the asylum approvals in the U.S. each year. Perhaps due to high numbers of undocumented Mexicans present in the U.S., judges and asylum officers are skeptical about the legitimacy and credibility of Mexican asylum claims. Read on for more information about U.S. asylum claims from Mexico, and to learn more about asylum in the United States, see Nolo’s section, “Asylum & Refugee Status.”

Do Many People Gain Asylum from Mexico?

Despite its close proximity, only about 50-300 people from Mexico are granted asylum in the U.S. each year. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 190 Mexican nationals who submitted an affirmative U.S. asylum application were granted asylee status in 2011. That number is higher than the norm. During the last ten years, a range of 35-190 Mexican affirmative asylum applications were approved each year.

For asylum applications submitted defensively in removal proceedings, only 104 out of the over 6,000 applications in 2011 were eventually approved by immigration judges. There is no record of any Mexican refugee arrivals during the past ten years.

What Types of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Mexico?

The most commonly granted asylum petitions from Mexico are based on fear of persecution and violence from drug cartels and drug traffickers based on social group or political opinion. Applicants will claim that the government of Mexico is unwilling or unable to protect them.

President Felipe Calderón’s Drug War policy of attacking drug trafficking organizations head on with raids and the capture of many prominent drug lords caused an increase in drug-related violence. During his six-year term, Calderón often used the military and police to detain cartel members with several innocent individuals (often working for police departments or the friends and family members of police, military, or politicians) caught in the crosshairs.

This situation has led to a surge in the number of Mexican asylum applications in the past few years. While the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has pledged to scale back these direct hits on drug operations, it is unknown whether this will affect drug violence – and asylum applications – in the future.

Journalist, activist, and politician asylees describe instances of death threats, unlawful detention, and the assault or murder of family members in their applications. The U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Human Rights Report documents politically motivated killings, including the murder of 20 sitting mayors for failing to cooperate with drug cartels.

There have also been grants of asylum for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community, with the prominent asylum case of Agustín Estrada Negrete granted in late 2012. While LGBT Mexican asylum claims remain prevalent, however, many have been denied recently, with one court citing “changed circumstances” in Mexican attitudes toward members of the LGBT community. The Department of State’s Human Rights Report in 2011 cited greater acceptance of LGBT rights in Mexico, including protections for gay marriage and adoption.

Mexican women who have been victims of domestic violence have also been successful in their applications for asylum by claiming to be members of a particular social group. In a successful case before the Board of Immigration Appeals called Matter of L.R., a Mexican woman testified that the police and a judge were unwilling to help her escape from her abusive husband despite her having requested help nine times. However, it is extremely difficult to win a domestic violence asylum case without a great deal of evidence that you went to the government for protection and was unable to receive any assistance.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Mexico?

As with all asylum applications, a common reason for denial is that the asylum officer or immigration judge does not find the applicant’s story to be “credible.” Unfortunately, discrimination and prejudice against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans remains a widespread problem in the U.S., with many Mexican immigrants stereotyped as “border jumpers” who are illegally living and working in the United States. Immigration officers and judges commonly issue findings that asylum applicants from Mexico lack credibility, deny asylum cases at a high rate, and find that many applications were “frivolous” (which finding bars the applicant from any further U.S. immigration benefits).

Another common reason for denial of Mexicans’ asylum applications is the difficulty of proving that the violent reprisals that Mexicans fear are based on one of the five protected grounds required under the law, namely race, ethnic group, religion, political opinion, or particular social group. Even if an applicant’s story is credible, asylum officers and immigration judges will often determine that the harm that Mexican asylum applicants describe is simply due to the widespread problem of violence throughout the country.

In the El Paso and Houston immigration courts, both of which handle large numbers of Mexican asylum claims, the denial rate is over 80%, compared with the national average denial rate of about 53%. In 2010, only two asylum cases were granted in El Paso. There is a widespread perception among immigration decisionmakers that Mexican defensive asylum claims are usually submitted as a last ditch measure to avoid deportation.

Danger of Long-Term Detention or Expedited Removal

Asylum applicants at the U.S.-Mexico border are usually detained for long periods while they wait for their applications to be adjudicated. For more information on applying for asylum at the border or U.S. entry points, see “Asylum or Refugee Status: How to Apply.” If a Mexican national expresses fear of persecution to the border officer, an asylum officer will give a Credible Fear interview, and if it is determined that the person’s fear of persecution is not credible, he or she may be placed into Expedited Removal from the United States.

Even if the asylum officer decides that the asylum seeker has a credible fear of persecution, he or she will be placed into removal proceedings and will likely be detained until an immigration judge can render a final decision.

Treatment in the detention facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border is similar to that in prisons, and asylum applications are often abandoned because the applicants no longer want to live in detention. For more on this, see “Living Conditions in Immigration Detention Centers.”

What Can Mexican Asylum Seekers Do to Increase Their Chances of Success?

Because there are so many Mexican asylum denials, you may have a difficult time convincing an asylum officer or an immigration judge that your claim has merit. Often Mexican asylum seekers spend years putting together a convincing case only to have their application denied. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can advise you as to your options and may be able to locate helpful documentation to support your case. Also, it is important for you to be as specific as possible when answering the questions on Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, in order to present a strong and credible case.

For example, If you are claiming persecution based on your political opinion (such as your membership in a political party that has been threatened by drug cartels) provide detailed records of your participation in political activities (such as membership cards or other documents that identify you as a member), your close relationship to individuals who have been harmed (for example, newspaper articles that describe details of the kidnapping of a fellow politician similarly situated to you).

You should also identify the groups or individuals that have harmed or targeted you or your family members. You will need to include reports from human rights organizations that corroborate your statements and provide medical records and police reports for any abuse suffered at the hands of government or nongovernment officials.

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