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

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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)

References:

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

About virginiaisaad

Virginia is a journalist based in Los Angeles who's written for publications including Los Angeles magazine, Upworthy, and Elite Daily. She was born in Argentina and raised in the San Fernando Valley along with her three siblings. Fun fact: She took a Chicanas and Feminism course with Eva Longoria while studying for her master's in mass communication at California State University, Northridge. Follow her on Twitter @virginiaisaad

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