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After fleeing drug violence for the US, Mexican asylum seekers are often sent back home.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Their stories may be heart-rending. Their experiences may seem unimaginable. Their lives may still be at risk.
But the growing numbers of Mexican citizens who have fled rampaging drug trafficking cartels to seek American political asylum are finding the door slammed shut in their faces.
U.S. immigration judges are expelling Mexican asylum seekers, leaving them to face their cartel demons, according to confidential records provided to GlobalPost and interviews with seven lawyers handling such cases.
It's difficult to know how all judges are ruling because asylum case records generally are not public for security reasons. But lawyers from Texas to Washington State report steep losses and few wins amid differing and evolving interpretations of asylum law as it applies to Mexicans.
One family that lost its case is a mother who fled with her four sons to El Paso from Ciudad Juarez last August after cartel assassins slaughtered her husband and three others, then vowed to return for the rest of the family.
Rarely seen immigration court records show that two different U.S. immigration judges have denied their two petitions. Two of the sons who survived the August massacre already have been deported. Their attorney says they have been sent "to their deaths" in Juarez, where cartel violence this year has already claimed a thousand lives despite a large army deployment.
Their mother and younger siblings, including a 9-year-old boy, are in Pennsylvania fighting a last ditch appeal of their deportation orders. Their attorneys agreed to share details of the family's plight only on condition that their identities be withheld for security reasons.
"(He) is a 9-year-old boy!” Pennsylvania immigration attorney Craig Shagin, who is handling the case, said about the youngest son. “They're going to take this perfectly adorable kid and throw him back into hell? From a humanitarian point of view, this is really hard to watch.”
The immigration attorneys say homeland security lawyers in some jurisdictions are aggressively opposing Mexican claims for reasons less than humanitarian. Homeland Security officials and appointed judges, they say, want to avoid triggering a system-clogging flood of asylum petitions or offending the Mexican government by ruling it can't protect its own citizens.
“The government's strategy is to oppose all Mexican asylum claims. Their marching orders are no, no, no, no, no,” said El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector, who has lost several cases, including one by a police officer who arrived in El Paso with eight fresh bullet wounds. Spector said his four other cases are drawing unusually robust government attention.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials declined repeated requests to discuss the agency's stance on Mexican asylum seekers. Their oral courtroom arguments are rarely committed to paper.
But private attorneys facing off with ICE attorneys say the agency typically cites two main arguments: One is that the asylum statute as written doesn't apply to victims of crime — only certain victims of political oppression, ethnic strife or civil unrest who can't count on government protection. In the one brief statement for this story, ICE alluded to how it interprets the asylum statute.
“The men and women of ICE have a sworn duty to uphold U.S. immigration law,” the statement said, “as it is written.”
The other main government argument, known in immigration law circles as “internal relocation,” holds that victims don't need U.S. haven because they can simply find it elsewhere within Mexico.