Earlier this month, Mexico’s congress passed a resolution encouraging U.S. authorities to grant asylum to Mexican citizens fleeing the savage violence that has plagued the country over the last several years. The resolution signifies an acknowledgement that the Mexican government is incapable of protecting its own citizens and is understood to be the first time lawmakers of any country have formally asked the U.S. government for assistance in providing safe haven for its citizens.
Despite an increase in awareness regarding the scale and brutality of the violence in Mexico, asylum claims are denied at an astounding rate. More than 9,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in 2012, and only 126 were accepted – less than 2 percent.
The majority of Mexican asylum applicants are individuals fleeing violence perpetrated by members of organized criminal cartels and do not fall neatly into one of the five protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group). Yet the complicity of municipal, state, and federal police with the cartels makes these applicants eligible for political asylum because the government has ultimately failed to protect them, and – in some cases – has actively persecuted them.
Still, adjudicators in the United States do not properly recognize the inextricable link between the cartels and the agents of the Mexican state. In addition, because Mexico is a neighboring country, U.S. immigration authorities deny their asylum claims at a higher rate due to a fear that the “floodgates” will open and we will be inundated with Mexican applicants.
The resolution was authored and introduced by Senator Maria de Guadalupe Calderon, the sister of former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon. The senator represents the southwestern state of Michoacán, an area where instability is at an all-time high as armed “self-defense” groups are fighting back against the extortion, rape, kidnappings, and executions perpetrated by the state’s dominant cartel, the Knights Templar.
The resolution specifically mentioned last year’s “Pedaling for Justice” bike ride by Carlos Gutierrez, a businessman from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua whose feet were cut off by drug traffickers after he failed to meet their extortion demands. Using two prosthetic legs, Gutierrez rode 700 miles rom El Paso to Austin to bring awareness to the widespread violence in his home country.
In addition to the implications the resolution may have on Mexican asylum claims, it may also stimulate U.S. lawmakers to reconsider the Mérida Initiative – a 2008 aid package from the United States to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean estimated at $1.5 billion. The Mérida Initiative requires that Mexico address human rights violations and fight corruption within law enforcement agencies.
It remains to be seen what effect the resolution will have on the U.S. government’s handling of Mexican asylum applications going forward. As a next step, advocates are encouraging lawmakers to hold binational congressional hearings to examine violence in Mexico and the asylum process in the United States. Such hearings would be a much-needed first step for the United States to address the realities of drug war violence it has so long ignored.