It used to be virtually impossible for Mexicans to gain admission to the United States as refugees – until the increasingly violent and powerful drug cartels made certain parts of the country unlivable for many.
Though the number of Mexicans obtaining political asylum still pales compared to, say, Chinese, it has grown in the last several years.
In 2012, nearly 130 Mexicans won political asylum – seemingly a small amount, but actually about three times the number who did just six years earlier, according to the Miami Herald.
An example of the type of person who is getting political asylum is Policarpo Chavira, a former bus driver and union leader who told the Herald that he fled Cuidad Juarez in his native Mexico to go to El Paso, Texas in 2011. Chavira told the newspaper he fled after after his son, Edgar, was held hostage until he paid a ransom. Chavira, who now lives in Florida, said that the abduction was the latest of many threats he had been subjected to in Mexico.
After initially being rejected for asylum, Chavira prevailed in February, when an immigration court judge granted to him on appeal. His wife, Maria Razo, as well as their two children and a few other relatives also received asylum.
“The attorney was able to prove that he was a political activist and a union leader and that he was personally targeted,” the Herald quoted paralegal Tony Villareal as saying.
“Immigration judges are opening their eyes to the fact that people are coming here from Mexico not just to work but they are coming to flee their country for the safety of their lives.”
In Texas, attorney Carlos Spector has made getting Mexicans political asylum his niche.
Spector has been fighting to get political asylum seen as something that is needed not just for those persecuted by their government because of their religious or political beliefs, or membership in a certain group, such as being female or homosexual, in some countries.
The Los Angeles Times, which interviewed Spector last year, quoted him as saying that the Mexican government is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens who face threats by cartels or corrupt officials.
Mexican officials were reluctant to address the issue publicly, according to both the Herald and the Times.
But one official, whom the Times did not identify, said: “We don’t know the reasons for all people asking for asylum, but we do know people are leaving for violence-related reasons. We’re not denying that. We face challenges and vulnerabilities.”
Spector boasts a few victories, among them the asylum he won for activist Saul Reyes Salazar, a former city official of Guadalupe. According to the Los Angeles Times, drug cartel members and corrupt Mexican soldiers allegedly threatened and killed several of Salazar’s relatives.
The Times reported that among the top 25 nationalities granted asylum, Chinese tend to be in the top spot.
In the 2011-2012 fiscal years, Mexicans appeared on the top 25 list for the first time, ranking 23rd.
Among those who have sought, and received, asylum are journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, some 70 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico since 1992.