Mex­i­can drug car­tels ex­ploit asy­lum sys­tem

Law­mak­ers are out­raged by rise in claims by dan­ger­ous gang mem­bers

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee has be­gun look­ing at re­ports that Mex­i­can drug car­tel mem­bers are abus­ing the U.S. asy­lum sys­tem to by­pass reg­u­lar im­mi­gra­tion checks and get into the coun­try, where some are set­ting up smug­gling op­er­a­tions and oth­ers en­gage in the same vi­o­lent feuds that caused them to flee Mex­ico in the first place.

In one in­stance, a woman made a claim of asy­lum and three months later was ap­pre­hended at a Bor­der Pa­trol check­point with more than $1 mil­lion in co­caine, ac­cord­ing to a memo ob­tained by the com­mit­tee that says crim­i­nal gangs are ex­ploit­ing holes in the asy­lum sys­tem.

The memo, viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times, also de­tails car­tel hit-squad mem­bers who won ac­cess to the U.S. af­ter claim­ing they feared vi­o­lence af­ter they “fell out of grace” with their em­ploy­ers.

In another case listed in the memo, two fam­i­lies in­volved in drug traf­fick­ing came to the U.S. claim­ing “cred­i­ble fear” of per­se­cu­tion, then be­gan tar­get­ing each other once they were here.

“It’s ou­tra­geous that mem­bers of Mex­i­can drug car­tels and oth­ers in­volved in il­licit ac­tiv­ity are so eas­ily able to ex­ploit our asy­lum laws and live in the U.S. vir­tu­ally un­de­tected,” said Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can.

“Our asy­lum laws are in place to help in­di­vid­u­als who are fac­ing truly se­ri­ous

per­se­cu­tion in their coun­try,” he said. “How­ever, dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals are gam­ing the sys­tem by claim­ing they have a ‘cred­i­ble fear’ of per­se­cu­tion when of­ten they’ve been the per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lence them­selves.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say they screen ev­ery­one who makes a cred­i­ble fear claim and try to weed out those who don’t meet the stan­dards, and try to de­tain those who do but also could be dan­gers to the com­mu­nity.

The asy­lum sys­tem has come un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny af­ter re­ports that the num­ber of peo­ple mak­ing “cred­i­ble fear” asy­lum claims at the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der has more than dou­bled in the past year.

The ris­ing vi­o­lence from drug car­tels has spawned many of the cases, with Mex­i­can na­tion­als say­ing they fear for their lives be­cause of fam­ily ties or even be­cause of where they live.

“Cred­i­ble fear” claims are based on the po­ten­tial for some­one to be tor­tured or per­se­cuted if they re­turn to their home coun­try. But ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­ceived by the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, some car­tel mem­bers them­selves are mak­ing such claims based on their time in the vi­o­lent world of Mex­ico’s drug wars.

“In­tel­li­gence clearly in­di­cates in­di­vid­u­als with di­rect and in­di­rect as­so­ci­a­tions to nar­cotics traf­fick­ing and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity are now re­sid­ing in the U.S. un­der the pro­tec­tive sta­tus of [cred­i­ble fear]. In some cases on­go­ing ac­tions by th­ese in­di­vid­u­als clearly pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to the com­mu­ni­ties in which they now re­side,” the memo says.

In the case of the woman caught with $1 mil­lion worth of drugs, the memo said she was mar­ried to some­one in­volved with a smug­gling op­er­a­tion in the El Paso, Texas, area.

A call to the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in the western dis­trict of Texas seek­ing in­for­ma­tion on the woman, whom the memo didn’t name, wasn’t re­turned Thurs­day.

The memo, stamped “For Of­fi­cial Use Only” and dated Oct. 2, says it was writ­ten by the Al­liance to Com­bat Transna­tional Threats com­mand in the El Paso sec­tor of the bor­der. A Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee aide said the memo was ob­tained from a source within the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment and was cir­cu­lated within the depart­ment.

The memo ar­gues that there isn’t enough scru­tiny on the front end when some­one makes a “cred­i­ble fear” claim, and said that cre­ates a loop­hole that can be ex­ploited.

But Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for Home­land Se­cu­rity, said asy­lum seek­ers go through mul­ti­ple back­ground checks be­fore any de­ci­sion is made, in­clud­ing checks by law en­force­ment and an in­ter­view with U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices.

“Cred­i­ble fear de­ter­mi­na­tions are dic­tated by long-stand­ing statute, not an is­suance of dis­cre­tion. The USCIS of­fi­cer must find that a ‘sig­nif­i­cant pos­si­bil­ity’ ex­ists that the in­di­vid­ual may be found el­i­gi­ble for asy­lum or with­hold­ing of re­moval. Dur­ing the cred­i­ble fear re­view, USCIS ini­ti­ates a back­ground check us­ing im­mi­gra­tion, na­tional se­cu­rity and crim­i­nal databases,” he said.

Once an of­fi­cer determines a “cred­i­ble fear” of per­se­cu­tion or tor­ture, U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment re­views the case to de­ter­mine whether to de­tail the in­di­vid­ual pend­ing a court hear­ing or whether to pa­role the per­son into the coun­try on the ad­mo­ni­tion of re­turn­ing for hear­ings.

“If an in­di­vid­ual claim­ing asy­lum at the bor­der is deemed to be a threat to pub­lic safety or na­tional se­cu­rity, ICE has the au­thor­ity to keep the in­di­vid­ual in de­ten­tion un­til their case is heard by an im­mi­gra­tion judge,” Mr. Boogaard said. “Only a judge can de­ter­mine asy­lum el­i­gi­bil­ity.

“On av­er­age, 91 per­cent of Mex­i­can ap­pli­cants seek­ing asy­lum fol­low­ing a de­ter­mi­na­tion that they have cred­i­ble fear are de­nied. In­di­vid­u­als who are de­nied an asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tion are sub­ject to re­moval from the United States,” he said.

Mr. Good­latte, though, said the law re­quires most peo­ple who raise claims of “cred­i­ble fear” to be put in manda­tory de­ten­tion. Pa­role is re­served for spe­cial med­i­cal emer­gency cases or hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons, or when there is a spe­cific pub­lic ben­e­fit to be­ing re­leased.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken an ex­pan­sive view of the pub­lic ben­e­fit sec­tion, ar­gu­ing that un­less there is a demon­stra­ble flight risk or ap­par­ent dan­ger to the com­mu­nity, those seek­ing asy­lum should be re­leased rather than held.

Mr. Good­latte said that ex­pan­sive view is dan­ger­ous and has led to the prob­lems de­tailed in the memo. He said his com­mit­tee “will be closely ex­am­in­ing this egre­gious abuse.”

Ac­cord­ing to the memo, some alien smug­glers are us­ing the “cred­i­ble fear” process as part of their tech­nique for get­ting il­le­gal im­mi­grants into the U.S.

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