Throughout 2013 we have seen a surge in immigrants requesting special visas to protect them from threats within their home country as well as within the U.S. Last week, several House Republicans voiced their concerns about the exponential growth of asylum requests from undocumented immigrants. From 2012 to 2013, requests for asylum citing “credible fear” of harm in returning to their home country nearly tripled. One lawmaker went so far as to ask, “The world is not twice as dangerous as it was in 2012, so what explains the spike?”
The reason for the ever-increasing flood of U.S. asylum requests has nothing to do with the fact that the world is “twice as dangerous” in 2013, but it does have to do with the fact that many Central American countries (especially Mexico) have become incredibly more dangerous in the last 5-6 years thanks to gang violence and the drug war.
Another important reason for the spike is increased awareness of the “credible fear” claim as a means to avoid deportation. Thanks to social networks, online resources, and the extremely vocal U.S. immigration reform movement, immigrants of all types are more educated about the ins and outs of U.S. immigration policy than ever. The “credible fear” asylum request was brought to the national spotlight this summer when dozens of undocumented Mexican DREAMers crossed the border back into Mexico and returned requesting asylum to gain lawful status. Most of them are still awaiting court dates that will determine whether or not they can stay in the country for good.
U visas for victims of serious crimes reaches yearly cap in weeks
In addition to requests for asylum, which can eventually result in a green card after several months or years if approved, the U.S. government has received thousands applications this fiscal year for U visas, a special type of visa for undocumented crime victims that can testify in a U.S. criminal case. USCIS caps U visas at 10,000 per year, and this fiscal year (starting October 1, 2013) the limit was reached just two weeks ago. U visas will not become available again to undocumented immigrant crime victims until October 1, 2014.
Unlike U visas however, asylum requests do not have a cap and the record 36,000+ requests this year are causing some lawmakers to believe that screening is too lax and current policies have become highly vulnerable to fraud. Like many U.S. visas, asylum requests have different approval rates depending on country of origin. Requests from Mexico are almost universally denied while Chinese requests have a fairly successful acceptance rate. The system is far from perfect, and many of its issues would be eliminated with the passage of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Crime, violence, and immigration reform
Immigrant groups all over the world are notoriously vulnerable to exploitation and crime, and programs like the U visa and asylum are needed to make sure there are ways to prevent these issues in the United States. However, the recent flood of requests point to some serious issues within current U.S. immigration policy. The perceived overabundance of asylum requests is a symptom of a much broader issue: we have too many immigrants in a desperate situation within the U.S. and no proper legal means to address their problems. The fact that U visas have already run out for 2014 points to not only the incredible size of the U.S. undocumented population, but also signals that far too many of them are suffering violence and abuse. It’s a symptom of a broken system that needs to be changed as soon as possible.
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