EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – They are the most numerous seekers of humanitarian protection in the United States, yet they are the ones who are most often denied asylum by the judicial immigration system.

According to its latest annual report, the Executive Office for Immigration Review examined 88,580 possible asylum claims from Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans in fiscal year 2022. The approval rate for Mexicans was 4 percent, while only 8 percent of Guatemalans and Hondurans whose cases came up for review that year secured a positive outcome. The grant rate for Salvadorans was 9 percent.

The grant rate last year for Russians, by contrast, was 61 percent, while 59 percent of Iranians and 53 percent of Chinese secured positive outcomes in asylum-only hearings, according to EOIR.

“Asylum denial rates for Mexicans and Northern Triangle countries have always been high,” said El Paso immigration attorney Iliana Holguin.

The reason is asylum requires a person to demonstrate not only a fear of persecution at home either by the government or a group the government cannot control, but they also must be targeted for specific reasons.

“There are five very specific protective grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. What happens with Mexico and Northern Triangle countries is that it’s very difficult to prove that someone has suffered based on one of those five grounds,” Holguin said.

Drug violence in the last four years has displaced from the Mexican countryside thousands of families, many of whom have shown up in the border city of Juarez across from El Paso, intent on seeking protection in the United States. In previous interviews with Border Report, they have shared stories of drug traffickers murdering their sons or brothers, demanding “protection” money or outright kicking people out of their homes.

Eladio Mena, who showed up at a Juarez migrant shelter last year, said members of a drug cartel extorted him and his family, threatened to kill his son and take his farmland.

“We are in the middle of two cartels. At night they came and gave us so many hours to leave. We left at night so they wouldn’t harm us,” he said.

Others have told Border Report the cartels went to their towns in Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Michoacan states, and told the men to work for them guarding drug shipments or killing rivals, or else they will be killed.

Holguin said such dire situations, by themselves, are not enough to win an asylum case.

“In Mexico, the biggest problem is the cartels, the corruption, being extorted for money. But unless they can prove that what happened to them was because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, they’re not going to qualify for asylum no matter how horrible were the things that they suffered,” she said.

Carlos Spector, founder of Mexicans in Exile and an immigration lawyer himself, said U.S.-Mexico relations play a role in high denial rates for Mexicans. To grant political asylum means to portray the asylum-seeker’s country as a failed state. Swift and numerous expulsions of Mexicans under the Title 42 public health law also have sent the message to that country’s residents that asylum will not be easily granted, he said.

He concurs that being a victim of criminals isn’t enough for Mexicans to get asylum. But he has long argued that the cartels have victimized Mexicans with the assistance or consent of Mexico’s law enforcement.  

“With authorized crime, the crooks do nothing without the authority of the state and many times in conjunction with them,” said Spector, who has represented several victims of cartels he says operated with impunity from the government.

Spector said the EOIR data suggests many Mexicans may not be getting the asylum they desired but are getting to stay in the United States under alternatives such as the Convention Against Torture treaty. Those who were tortured by police officers or by criminals who received approval from a government official may get a reprieve from deportation.

Some of his clients also have received the benefit of administrative closure, which removes a case from immigration court indefinitely. That includes victims of the Sinaloa cartel in farming communities along the Rio Grande southeast of Juarez. Other Mexicans currently seeking asylum include families of abducted or “disappeared” persons, police officers threatened for doing their job, and men labeled as informants for the government.

Spector and Holguin urged Mexican asylum-seekers to get legal advice when applying for asylum, given the long odds they face.