More Mexican immigrants are seeking asylum in Georgia following the state’s 2011 illegal immigration legislation.
That’s according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than 200 Mexican nationals have filed for asylum in Atlanta’s immigration court, which serves Northeast Georgia, since the fiscal year began in October, the newspaper reported.
That compares to only 59 applications filed in the previous year.
The law makes asylum available to a person who can show a credible fear of being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership in a particular social group.
Nationally, 104 individuals from Mexico were granted asylum in 2011. None of those cases were
Most of the Georgia applications so far in 2012 have been filed by people caught in Georgia illegally, who are trying to avoid deportation, according to the report. There are also immigrants who approach officials as they enter the country and ask for asylum.
Those granted asylum in the past have generally been journalists, human rights activists and other individuals who fled Mexico after receiving death threats or being attacked.
Arturo Corso, a Gainesville immigration attorney, chalks the increase in asylum seekers in Georgia to violence in Mexico’s drug war and increased education about how to legally maneuver the immigration system.
“In Mexico, they are No. 1 in drug-related violence,” he said. “There are dozens and dozens of people savagely murdered in broad daylight of public streets every day, including judges and police officers. That’s why people are afraid.”
Corso said he knows two medical doctors in Gainesville who fled Mexico because their clinic and pharmacy were attacked by drug gangs in search of pharmaceuticals.
“They burned their place down after robbing them and threatened their lives,” he said. “They cannot safely return to Mexico because they would be targeted and killed.”
The doctors are living in the U.S. unlawfully, said Corso, who declined to reveal the doctors’ identities. While applications are on the rise, it isn’t getting any easier to be granted asylum.
“Asylum cases are extremely difficult, and Georgia has one of the most conservative sets of judges that work with asylum,” said Dabney Evans, co-founder of the Atlanta Asylum Network at Emory University. “One of the challenges is related to the way people make claims.”
The six judges at Atlanta’s immigration court have an average denial rate of about 80 percent, which is the highest in the nation, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization that monitors the federal government.
Phil Kent, a member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board and the national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control, said immigrants should start a visa application before entering the country and not to avoid removal from the U.S.
“Illegal immigrants in our country need to begin a process through their home country to apply for a visa legally. Not to do so, and to tolerate them here illegally or to amnesty them, is a slap in the face to those who play by the rules,” Kent said.
The recent surge of claims by Americanized immigrants who understand the legal system threatens to undermine public faith in the asylum process, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“If you want to preserve the integrity of your laws while being humanitarian, it will become very difficult,” he said. “An increase like this can show how difficult it is to stop them from abusing the system.”
Corso, who said he is assisting only a handful of asylum cases, brushes off the characterization that asylum seekers are taking advantage of the legal system.
“It is simply wrong to think, ‘The Georgia legislature passed the law and now immigrants are coming up with some crackpot way to get around it,’” Corso said. “That’s just not true.”