More Illegal Immigrants Ask for Asylum

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Floating across the Rio Grande on an inflatable raft, Francisco Antunez Gutierrez entered America illegally from Mexico in broad daylight this March. The U.S. Border Patrol spotted him a few minutes later, he says, and brought him here for detention.

But the U.S. hasn’t deported Mr. Antunez, because he played a card that illegal border crossers are using in record numbers: He asked for asylum.

Mr. Antunez was among 27,546 migrants who made credible-fear claims after entering the U.S. illegally in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, according to Department of Homeland Security data. That is up from 10,730 such cases in fiscal 2012 and 3,273 in 2008.

A few of these people entered from Canada or as stowaways. But the majority entered via Mexico—some from as far away as Africa or Asia—border officials say. Claiming they face harm if returned home, they are flooding immigration courts and detention facilities along America’s southern border, especially in South Texas.

Immigration judges eventually reject most of these asylum petitions. But some asylum seekers, who often go free on bail, use the lengthy process to disappear into America’s underground economy.

Illegal crossers like Mr. Antunez are a subset of asylum seekers. The U.S. received 83,400 asylum applications of all types in 2012, many from people living in America on valid visas or applying from overseas, Homeland Security data show. Asylum seekers are a minority of the hundreds of thousands of people whom the U.S. catches sneaking in each year.

But the sharp rise in people who declare they have a credible fear of harm back home suggests that illegal crossers have found the process to be an effective tactic to remain in America, now that stronger border policing has made it harder to melt in north of the border.

“It’s like the magic word” …

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