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

Possibilities and challenges when applying for asylum from Mexico.

Despite submitting the most applications for asylum each year, Mexican nationals account for very few of the asylum approvals in the United States. 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 on Asylum & Refugee Status.

Do Many People Gain Asylum from Mexico?

Despite its close proximity, only about 300-800 people from Mexico are granted asylum in the U.S. each year. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for example, 468 Mexican nationals who submitted an affirmative U.S. asylum application were granted asylee status in 2017. But approvals vary widely year by year. For example, only 203 affirmative Mexican asylum cases were approved in 2013.

For grants of asylum in removal proceedings, the 2019 approval rate of only 6% for Mexican asylum claims by immigration judges, compared with a 20% approval rate for all countries overall in the immigration courts.

What Types of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Mexico?

At one time, the most commonly granted asylum petitions from Mexico were based on fear of persecution and violence from drug cartels and drug traffickers based on social group or political opinion. Applicants claimed that the government of Mexico was unwilling or unable to protect them. However, in 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed years of immigration rulings and legal precedent to declare that immigrants fleeing gang-related violence in their home countries were in most cases ineligible for asylum. See Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018). Although federal court litigation has made inroads into this blanket prohibition, winning such a claim will definitely be harder than it once was.

Journalist, activist, and politician asylees have described death threats, unlawful detention, and the assault or murder of family members in their applications. The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch says in its 2019 World Report that President Obrador inherited (in 2018) "a human rights catastrophe rooted in extreme violence by organized crime and widespread abuse by the military, police, and prosecutors" and that "his predecessor...made little progress in improving human rights practices. Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. Impunity for these crimes remained the norm..."

There have also been grants of asylum for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community. While LGBT Mexican asylum claims remain prevalent, however, many have been denied recently, citing “changed circumstances” in Mexican attitudes toward members of the LGBT community. Indeed, same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Mexico since 2015.

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. This type of claim has also, however, become more difficult since Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018).

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” (believable). 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” (barring 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.

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 is supposed to give the person a credible fear interview, and if it is determined that the 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. Another recent issue is that the Trump administration has been handing the job of making this decision to people who are enforcement-oriented CBP employees rather than trained asylum officers.

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 might 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 political opinion (such as your membership in a political party that has been threatened by drug cartels), provide detailed records of your participation (such as membership cards or other documents that identify you as a member) and of 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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