Political Bias and Adjudication Disparities among Mexican Asylum Seekers

Taylor Levy worked for three years as a full-time volunteer at Annunciation House, a migrant house of hospitality located eleven blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, and continues to volunteer with the organization. In April 2014, she became a Fully Accredited Representative in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals and currently works at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center representing low-income immigrant clients. She can be reached at taylorklevy@gmail.com


Ideally, each and every migrant who seeks political asylum in the U.S. would be judged equally and impartially regardless of country of origin; however, this is simply not the case. Mexican applicants consistently face exceptionally low asylum grant rates despite widespread human rights abuses and levels of violence that often rival those found in active war zones.

During the period from FY2009 to FY2013, immigration courts received a total of 186,556 asylum applications from respondents of all nationalities (DOJ, 2014). In turn, immigration judges decided a total of 92,915 asylum cases “on the merits” (meaning that the asylum application was followed through to the end and was either granted or denied). Of that figure, asylum was granted in 48,099 cases, representing overall average grant rate of 52%. For FY2013, the top ten nationalities granted asylum by immigration courts were China, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Egypt, the Soviet Union, Eritrea, Russia, El Salvador, and, for the first time ever, Mexico (DOJ, 2013).

Despite finally breaking into the top ten, however, Mexican asylum applicants continued to face significant adjudication disparities with grants rates far below the 52% grant rate for all nationalities combined. For example, from FY2009 to FY2013, Mexican applicants only had a 9% chance of being granted political asylum by an immigration judge, while Chinese applicants were successful over 74% of the time (DOJ, 2014). Likewise, on average, Colombians were granted asylum by immigration judges more than 40% of the time.

As demonstrated by these statistics, Mexican asylum applicants consistently face exceptionally low grant rates despite the high levels of violence and political terror occurring in Mexico today. There are a number of alternate explanations for why Mexican applicants do not receive asylum at the same (or even similar) rate as applicants coming from other nations. The most frequently cited argument made by government officials attributes these disparities to disproportionally high rates of frivolous asylum claims being filed by Mexican nationals. While not without its merits, this simplistic explanation fails to fully explain the extent to which Mexican applicants are negatively favored within the U.S. political asylum bureaucracy.

On the other hand, several scholars have argued that the U.S. is reluctant to grant Mexicans asylum “out of fear of economic burden,” general anti-Latino/a sentiment, the geographic proximity of Mexico, and worries that granting asylum to Mexican nationals would open the symbolic floodgates of legalized Mexican immigration to the U.S (Evans & Kohrt, 2004, p.18; Mann, 2012; Morales et. al. 2013). Furthermore, low asylum grant rates for Mexican nationals likely reflect U.S. government worries that granting asylum on a large scale would negatively affect foreign relations ties between the U.S. and Mexico (Plascencia, 2000). Since political asylum is granted on the basis of persecution by the government or by groups that the government cannot control, widespread granting of asylum for Mexican nationals could raise issues concerning the ethics of the U.S. government providing millions of dollars of aid to the Mexican military while at the same time granting political asylum to refugees fleeing the human rights abuses of that very same military organization.

It is clear that political biases have resulted in the unfair treatment of Mexican asylum seekers despite moral and legal obligations to protect refugees for whom deportation is a death sentence. The U.S. government must provide refuge to the thousands of Mexicans who have been persecuted and displaced due to extreme levels of violence, corruption, and lawlessness within their country. Furthermore, the U.S. government must ensure that these arriving refugees are treated fairly and humanely, without being subjected to further persecution and trauma. Contemporary Mexican asylum seekers are not “gaming the system;” they are fleeing for their lives, and the U.S. government must treat them accordingly.

Table 1

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: All Countries Combined
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 30,112 8,800 9,876 18,676 47%
FY2010 32,810 8,518 8,335 16,853 51%
FY2011 42,664 10,137 9,280 19,417 52%
FY2012 44,296 10,711 8,502 19,213 56%
FY2013 36,674 9,933 8,823 18,756 53%
TOTAL 186,556 48,099 44,816 92,915 52%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
(2014b, April). FY 2013 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014
from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy13syb.pdf

 Table 2

Top Ten Nationalities Granted Asylum by Immigration Courts FY2009-FY2013
Rank FY2009 FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 FY2013Rank FY2013Number of Grants FY2013% of Total Grants
1 China China China China China 4,532 45.63%
2 Ethiopia Ethiopia Eritrea Ethiopia Ethiopia 399 4.02%
3 Haiti Nepal Ethiopia Nepal Nepal 381 3.84%
4 Iraq India Nepal Eritrea India 322 3.24%
5 Colombia Egypt Egypt Egypt Egypt 305 3.07%
6 India Somalia Soviet Union Soviet Union Soviet Union 252 2.54%
7 Eritrea Colombia India India Eritrea 240 2.42%
8 Albania Eritrea Somalia Guatemala Russia 187 1.88%
9 Guinea Soviet Union Colombia El Salvador El Salvador 181 1.82%
10 Nepal Armenia Russia Pakistan Mexico 155 1.56%

Note: There is no explanation of the use of the “Soviet Union” as a country.
Adapted from Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
(2014b, April). FY 2013 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014
from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy13syb.pdf

Table 3

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: Mexico
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 2,490 56 336 392 14%
FY2010 3,996 38 477 515 7%
FY2011 7,425 92 1,010 1,102 8%
FY2012 10,542 113 1,306 1,419 8%
FY2013 8,569 155 1,566 1,721 9%
TOTAL 33,022 454 4,695 5,149 9%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)


Table 4

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: China
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 8,117 3,085 1,448 4,533 68%
FY2010 9,534 3,419 1,366 4,785 71%
FY2011 10,385 4,299 1,593 5,892 73%
FY2012 9,457 5,015 1,421 6,436 78%
FY2013 5,568 4,532 1,229 5,761 79%
TOTAL 43,061 20,350 7,057 27,407 74%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)


Table 5

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: Colombia
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 544 294 434 728 40%
FY2010 502 187 327 514 36%
FY2011 496 175 185 360 49%
FY2012 426 98 129 227 43%
FY2013 291 72 118 190 38%
TOTAL 2,259 826 1,193 2,019 41%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)


Evans, D., & Kohrt, B. (2004). No refuge for persecuted neighbors: Human Rights and Asylum in the Americas. AmeriQuests, 1(1). Retrieved from http://homiletic.net/index.php/ameriquests/article/view/6

Mann, K. (2012). Reporters as refugees: Applying United States asylum laws to persecuted journalists in Mexico. Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, 35(1), 149-172.

Morales, M. C., Morales, O., Menchaca, A. C., & Sebastian, A. (2013). The Mexican drug war and the consequent population exodus: Transnational movement at the US-Mexican border. Societies, 3(1), 80-103.

Plascencia, L. F. (2000). Ignored Migrant Voices—Mexican Political Refugees in the United States. Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, 13, 67.

U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). (2013, February). FY 2012 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy12syb.pdf

U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). (2014, April). Asylum Statistics Chart. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/efoia/FY2009-FY2013AsylumStatisticsbyNationality.pdf

More than Words: Photojournalist captures the violence in Mexico via El Nuevo Sol

Julian Cardona/ Photo by Karla Henry for El Nuevo Sol

Mexican photojournalist Julian Cardona presented his photographs illustrating the violence in Mexico and the economic turmoil its citizens face during his visit to California State University, Northridge on Tuesday, April 11.

Sharing photographs from his books including Exodus/Exodo and Juarez: The Laboratory of our Future, Cardona noted the ramifications of North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), an agreement among the US, Mexico and Canada, and the risks migrants face when crossing the border.

“First thing I realized was that in the city there were external forces and transnational forces that were playing a role in the everyday life,” said Cardona.

As a photographer for El Diario de Juarez, he witnessed first hand the effects of foreign markets in Mexico, noting the privatization of the public enterprise and market de-regularization.

To read more, visit El Nuevo Sol

For more on the violence in Mexico, click here

Mexicanos en Exilio–Asylum Project events in Austin, TX, March 26-29

A series of events will be held in Austin, March 26-29 regarding political
asylum for Mexicans fleeing the violence.
Details are available at the Mexicanos en Exilio Facebook page and in the
attached flyer. An outline of the scheduled events is below.

Mexicanos en el Exilio Facebook

Mexicanos en el Exilio Twitter

The Asilo/Asylum Project seeks to inform the University of Texas and
off‐‑campus communities about

the injustices and violence in Mexico by sponsoring a weeklong set of
activities around asylum cases

represented by *Mexicanos en el Exilio*. We also intend to build long-term
support in Austin for future

cases of asylum seekers from Mexico. Our asylum guests have faced
incredible life-threatening

violence and have been forced to leave their homes. We are offering them an
opportunity to voice

their concerns, fears, and hopes for themselves, their families, and their


*Monday, March 26*

*Limited Space Available*

*Welcome dinner hosted by the*

*Project Asilo Committee at Takoba*

*Restaurant, 1411 E 7th Street, Austin,*

*78702 at*

*7:30 p.m. RSVP required at*

*alejandraspector@utexas.edu by*

*Monday, March 19.*

*Tuesday, March 27*

*Event Free & Open to the Public*

*Panel Discussion on Asylum for*


*Chair: Carlos Spector*

*SAC 1.118*

*3:00—5:00 p.m.*

*Wednesday, March 28*

*Free & Open to the Public*

*Public Forum on Asylum for Mexico*

*Sponsored by The Texas Observer*

*UT-°©‐‑Austin Hillel Center*

*7—9 p.m.*

*Asylum Speakers: Cipriano Jurado,*

*Juan Escobedo, Jorge Reyes; Chair:*

*Carlos Spector and Melissa del Bosque.*

*RSVP required at:*


*Thursday, March 29*

*Limited Space Available*

*Passover Seder*

*Aside from ceremony, special guests*

*and invited asylum speakers will speak.*

*For more information, please contact:*

Emilio Zamora, Professor, Department of History, University of Texas at
Austin, Austin, Texas 78712-0220 512 475-8706, 512 739-0168

Texas Observer: Tyrant’s Foe Carlos Spector

See the attached profile of Carlos Spector and his political asylum
practice in the current issue of the Texas Observer. This is a companion
piece to the story about the hyperviolence in the Valle de Juarez that was
posted last week. That story is online here:

The Texas Observer

The Deadliest Place in Mexico

Tyrant’s Foe by Carlos Spector

Threats follow asylum seeker across Texas border–KVIA

Below is the posting from Frontera List on April 8 2011 with the
original Diario article that I believe describes the event that caused
Christina Roman to leave Juarez and seek asylum in the US. Kudos to
the Spector law firm and others in the area who are working to help
those seeking asylum from the criminal and government-sponsored
violence in Mexico. For information on how you can help these
refugees, see:

Mexicanos En Exilio
Mexicanos En Exilio (Mexicans in Exile), founded by the Law Offices of
Carlos Spector, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those
forced to leave Mexico because of the Mexican government’s failure or
unwillingness to protect them. These individuals have risked their
lives for truth and justice in Mexico. These individuals include
reporters, photo journalists, political activists, human rights
activists, businessmen, and former members of law enforcement.

Threats follow asylum seeker across Texas border

FRONTERA LIST posting from April 8 2011
[frontera-list] survivor of El Castillo massacre accuses federal
police of involvement in the crime

Diario presents an interview with a survivor of the massacre at the
bar El Castillo last week where 10 people were killed. She is a woman
who worked at the bar. Before the attack, some federal police entered
the bar and started searching some of the clients. They also took away
their cell phones. The witness says one of her coworkers argued with
the police, asking them why they were molesting the clients and the
workers. She was warned, “You will be the first…”
The police left and shortly afterward, a single gunman described as a
young man of about 20 with an assault rifle–a sicario– entered the
bar and committed the killings. Among the victims was the young woman
who had talked to the police as well as the owner of the bar. He had
previously run the La Pantera bar in the same part of town and it had
been attacked for not paying protection money earlier.

The witness also said that after the killings, the federales returned,
robbed the dead of personal belongings and took other things from the
bar–bottles of imported liquor, furnishings, etc. And the report
from the Fiscalia said that the clothing on the bodies of the victims
had some of the pockets turned inside out …

The witness said that no one had denounced the behavior of the federal
agents; the owner of the bar was dead and the relatives who came to
the scene were concerned over the condition of their family members.
In this testimony she says that “supposedly they (the federal police)
are here to protect us, but it isn’t like that.”
There have been no advances in this homicide investigation. The crime
scene was completely manipulated by federal agents who took away
evidence and moved the bodies.
There is more… I posted a google translation below…

There is video of this witness’ testimony at the link. molly

‘Tú vas a ser la primera’, la amenazaron federales, y luego un sicario desató masacre en bar: testigo
El Diario | 08-04-2011 | 00:22

Reyes Salazar Family Press Conference

There are several video clips at the link below to the press conference announcing the grant of political asylum to Saúl Reyes. In  one clip is a statement from Jorge Luis Reyes, the son of two family members kidnapped and murdered last year. The main video clip features Sara Salazar speaking about how the killings of her sons and daughters. “I had 10 children and only four remain alive, they have killed them all, and  I can’t do anything… my heart is dry, I don’t have any more strength to do anything else”, said Doña Sara Salazar.

Mi corazón está seco, dijo Sara Salazar, El Diario de Juárez, February 8, 2012