The number of immigrants seeking asylum citing "credible fear" of persecution or other factors have more than doubled since 2012, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.
"It's like the magic word," Jodi Goodwin, a Texas immigration lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal.
"Say it and the government has to give you a credible-fear hearing."
In fiscal year 2013, which ended on Sept. 30, a total of 27,546 immigrants crossed over the U.S. border by making "credible fear" claims. In fiscal 2012, 10,730 individuals made similar claims. In contrast, there were only 3,273 in 2008.
Under U.S. immigration laws, asylum-seekers can enter the United States based on fear of persecution over race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or "membership in a particular social group," the Journal reported.
Most of those who say they are seeking asylum come across the Mexican border; few are coming through Canada. Some with "credible fear" claims are from countries in Africa and Asia. However, 77 percent of asylum-seekers in fiscal 2013 were from El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala.
The cases are taking over immigration courts and filling detention facilities, mostly in South Texas, the Journal noted. Some immigration lawyers allege that the rise in asylum seekers is a scam
that is overwhelming border agents.
In August, Fox News reported
that border agents in the San Diego area have had to put asylum-seekers up in local hotels while they await their credible fear hearings, some of them involving fears of retaliation from drug cartels, especially those who identify themselves as immigrants from Mexico.
Reflejos, a bilingual journal
out of Chicago, reports that several Mexican citizens who are claiming credible fear are from the area about 250 miles west of Mexico City known as "Tierra Caliente," or Hot Country, where drug cartels have taken over. Some immigrants from Tierra Caliente even carry with them a formal letter signed by a town official stating that they are being persecuted.
Once claimants are given a pass, they are released on bail or on their own recognizance, due to lack of space in detention facilities. They are expected to show up to their hearings on their own volition. But many are never seen again because they simply disappear into the world of illegal immigrants living in the United States.
An immigration court in Harlingen, Texas, reported that about 69 percent of asylum seekers never showed up for court hearings in 2012. That number improved to 48 percent in 2013, the Journal reported.
Altogether, 83,400 asylum applications were filed in the United States in 2012, but most came from individuals who were already here on legal visas or were living outside the country.
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