The number of Central American immigrants seeking asylum because of a "credible fear" has increased sevenfold in the last five years. Immigration officials are not sure if the fears are real, or if people are now more aware of using asylum as an option.
They all claim they are afraid of the gangs, drug cartels and shootings in their countries. They come to the U.S. seeking asylum, in fear for their lives. Immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are entering the U.S. by the hundreds and thousands, putting the words, "credible fear' on their applications.
In the last five years, "credible fear" applications at our border have increased from almost 5,000 to 36,000. Advocates say the influx of immigrants from Central America can be traced to the increased drug and gang violence. Others say it is because people have discovered how easy it is to use the asylum application as an option.
Officials are saying that even though the number of immigrants seeking asylum is high, the numbers are not as high as they were in the 1990's when the U.S. saw a surge of immigrants after a violent coup in Haiti.
There is still the problem of people sneaking across the border, but Judy London, directing attorney of the Immigrants' Rights Project in Los Angeles, says "They've learned that you can just go up to a border agent and tell them you want asylum."
In September of this year, the Arizona Republic, published in Phoenix, printed an investigative report that detailed how hundreds, and perhaps thousands of Indian refugees was sneaking across the border into Arizona.
The asylum seekers from India are paying as much as $35,000 to be smuggled half-way around the globe, to be left off in Central America. They then have to make an arduous journey up through Mexico to the Arizona border. There, these people, too, have learned very quickly to seek asylum using "credible fear" on their applications.
On Dec. 12, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to address reports that the asylum system is being exploited. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), said, "If indeed we allow that process to be abused … then those that we disserve the most are those who are genuinely persecuted."
The Immigration and Naturalization Service says that people in this country legally, on a visitor's visa, or on business, can file an "affirmative" application, and they have increased a little. Between the "credible fear" and "affirmative" applications, the two categories have increased to 80,000 in 2013, double what they were five years ago.
Those being legally granted asylum numbered 30,000 in 2012. The process of gaining asylum takes time. About 90 percent of those applying will pass the initial interview, allowing them to stay and work in this country until their cases come up for a final hearing. In many cases, this can take years.