National News

When Asylum Is Your ‘Only Shot’

Posted June 25, 2018 1:22 p.m. EDT

A heavy flow of Central American migrants and refugees has continued toward the U.S.-Mexico border despite intensifying obstacles to entering the United States: the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings; the separation of thousands of migrant families; and tightening of “credible fear” qualifications on asylum requests.

In interviews along the border last week, many described harrowing journeys from their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala: marching through Central American wilderness and borderlands on foot, hiding in vans through Mexican immigration checkpoints, and even riding on top of cargo trains. Back home they had left behind family members, homes and farms, because threats against their lives had made remaining untenable. Many families told The New York Times they would rather be separated from their children than send them back home.

Victor Clark-Alfaro, an adjunct professor at San Diego State University and director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana, said that he did not believe the flow of migrants would stop. Clark-Alfaro said that in his extensive experience on the border working with migrants, an abundance of violence back home remained by far the most prevalent reason people have left their countries.

“It’s the gang violence. That is the biggest factor that is forcing them out. The economic situation is second; the violence is the primary reason,” he said. “But the gang violence goes right along with the economy. There aren’t any options.”

He said that, from his vantage point, more and more Central Americans migrants were seeking U.S. entry through legal asylum claims, rather than “crossing through the desert or the mountains like before.”

Asylum denials are especially high from Central America, from which 75 percent to 80 percent of asylum cases were denied between 2012 and 2017, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

“Of everyone who is crossing, the vast majority will not get asylum,” he said. “They’re trying,” he said, because “they see this as their only shot.”