Gang Violence Leads To Dramatic Rise In Asylum Requests From Central American Immigrants

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The number of asylum requests by Central America immigrants to the United States has dramatically risen in the past five years, according to USCIS Associate Director Joseph Langlois, who will present the findings on Wednesday. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received about 19,119 asylum requests through the end of May, but believe that they will receive nearly 29,000 by the end of this year.

Applicants must apply for asylum within US borders, including port-of-entries like airports, seaport, or border crossings. As a result, immigrants living in the Rio Grande Vally in South Texas are leading the drastic increase of asylum requests: about 12,400 requests this year compared to 3,400 from four years ago. About 66 percent of these asylum applicants predominantly originate from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Central America has about 70,000 members that comprise 900 gangs, but the majority of the violence stems from the so-called North Triangle covering El Salvador, Hondorus, and Guatemala. Last year, El Salvadoran rival gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 called a truce, which brought the number of murders down from twelve to five per day. But in May, the truce ended and killings again rose. In Honduras, there were numerous violent executions, including the death of twenty journalists in May.

Despite the influx of asylum applications, none of the three Central American countries were granted the greatest number of asylum requests. The top three leading countries of persons granted asylum came from China, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Only 222 applicants from Guatemala and 191 applicants from El Salvador were accepted. Honduras was not represented in the statistics.

At a time when those three Central American countries are experiencing increased levels of drug trafficking, violence, and crime, Texas border patrol officials are also reporting an uptick in border crosser arrests places “other than Mexico.”

The process of applying for asylum can be difficult. The issues can range from not having enough asylum visas to serve the number of people applying to difficulty obtaining proof to show why the applicant cannot go back to the original country. Up until April, asylum seekers had to wait six months between filing an application and applying for legal work authorization. But because of the financial hardship posed by not being able to work during those six months, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have settled a class action lawsuit and are now letting such applicants work while they await approval.

The future of asylum applications might be more streamlined with the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Current law requires that applicants must file an asylum application within one year of entering the United States. But some asylees are denied because they miss the deadline. The Senate immigration bill, approved with a strong, bipartisan vote, would take away the one-year deadline requirement. For example, asylees in the LGBTQ community miss the deadline because they likely do not know that sexual orientation or gender-based persecution in their home countries are reasons to apply for asylum.