The Trouble with Asylum

Federal police stand on a hill near a crime scene where the bodies of four dead men were found on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez August 15, 2010. From

The Dallas Observer-part of Village Voice Media-is running a series that takes a closer look at Hispanics living in the United States, specifically in regards to immigration and the controversy that was flamed by Arizona’s immigration policy scuffle. In the most recent article, the writers took a closer look at the frightening statistic that only a fraction of the Mexican citizens seeking asylum are accepted.

A number of factors are pointed to in the article as explanation for why it has become so much harder for Mexicans seeking asylum to win their cases, with their stories of persecution or abuse seeming to make little difference.

Some point to the U.S.’s desire to maintain a close relationship with Mexico, fearing that the embarrassment to the country if the U.S. acknowledged police and military corruption or governmental ineffectiveness  might fracture an already delicate relationship. This could also embarrass the U.S. as it has been funding Mexican military forces as part of the Merida Initiative, a by now 1.6 billion dollar plan started in 2008 to work with Mexican authorities to fight drug runners. How would it look if the U.S. were found to be funding corrupt military forces?

Others point to the broken system of the country’s immigration courts. Immigration judges are overworked and often aren’t given enough time to deliberate due to the limited window of time in which asylum cases can be determined. Additionally, many of the cases seem to come down to the luck of the draw, with certain judges more sympathetic to certain issues that might help or hurt an asylum seeker’s case. The requirement that an asylum seeker’s story must include “credible fear” is fairly subjective, and the intense scrutiny on illegal immigration recently can, directly or not, put political pressure on judges.

Whatever the reason, it’s unnerving to see such a trend. The Dallas Observer article tells the story of two asylum seekers who ran into trouble in their attempts to flee their home country-not by choice but because they felt as though they had no other option. In the case of the woman detailed in the article, the legal channels to asylum failed her-she turned herself in at the border.

What I think we as a nation fail to realize is that when we make it so difficult (or in some cases nearly impossible) for desperate, scared people to secure safe haven in our country, it makes them less and less inclined to come here through legal channels, often putting their lives in danger through contact with coyotes and armed groups that take advantage of immigrants (see the recent murder of 72 illegal immigrants).

Before we fix the U.S.’s illegal immigration problems, it might be a good idea to fix the ones present in our legal immigration policies.

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