Many foreign nationals migrate to the United States each year to escape persecution by their government or other oppressive forces in their home country. This is possible because United States immigration law allows any person with refugee status to seek admission into the country whether here legally or illegally.
However, the rules governing asylum are complicated and a recent article out of Texas reports that Mexican immigrants are often excluded.
The article told the story of a woman from a small town in Chihuahua who sought asylum after six men in her family, including two in her immediate family, were killed and two relatives' homes were burned to the ground, likely by a powerful drug cartel.
After the woman told immigration officials that she believed that she would be killed if she returned to Mexico, her application for asylum was still denied. The judge on the case found that harm to family members does not necessarily constitute persecution, as required to achieve asylum.
The judge also suggested that the woman could relocate to another part of Mexico where she would be safe. The case, which is now being appealed, shows the difficulty many Mexican nationals running from drug-related violence or corrupt authorities face.
Statistics show that while Mexican nationals are among the top asylum-seekers, only a small number of requests are actually granted. In fact, 25,223 political asylum applications from Mexican citizens were filed between 2006 and 2010, but only 822 were granted, which amounts to 3.3 percent.
Many experts say that the problem is that the political asylum laws are out of date and written for another time. To achieve asylum, a person must prove that there is a legitimate fear of persecution because of the person's race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
In other words, while the asylum laws can cover cases involving gang or drug violence, these are not the type of refugees the laws were written to protect.
Ultimately, if you are seeking asylum in the United States, it's important to talk to an immigration attorney who can help you fill out an application that is accepted under the laws.
Source: El Paso Times, "Law inhibits many Mexican asylum cases," Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera, July 31, 2011.