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Nearly two-thirds of asylum requests by illegal immigrant children immediately granted

Published time: July 18, 2014 21:20
A Central American immigrant and her children sit inside the so-called La Bestia (The Beast) cargo train, in an attempt to reach the Mexico-US border, in Arriaga, Chiapas state, Mexico on July 16, 2014. (AFP Photo / Elizabeth Ruiz)

A Central American immigrant and her children sit inside the so-called La Bestia (The Beast) cargo train, in an attempt to reach the Mexico-US border, in Arriaga, Chiapas state, Mexico on July 16, 2014. (AFP Photo / Elizabeth Ruiz)

Despite promises from President Barack Obama that unaccompanied illegal immigrant children will be deported, nearly two-thirds of requests from minors seeking asylum in the US have been initially approved, according to a new report.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sent information to the House Judiciary Committee stating that 65 percent of the unaccompanied alien minors who had petitioned the US government for asylum were immediately granted approval, the legislative committee announced Friday.

In the first half of 2014, more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the Mexican border into the United States in southwest Texas. There has also been a sharp increase in mothers from Central America carrying their children across the border. These immigrants often turn themselves into Customs and Border Protection upon entering the country. The US government has been overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of people who must be housed, fed and seen by medical professionals while they await processing by Border Patrol agents and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Central American parents desperate to save their children from increasing violence from gangs and drug cartels are exploiting a loophole in a 2008 law designed to prevent human trafficking, knowing their children will remain in the US, according to ABC News.

"Salvadorans know that kids who make it to the U.S. can stick around for awhile with their families," said Nick Phillips, who is based in El Salvador and serves a consultant for the Latin American Program at The Wilson Center.

At the end of June, Obama said that he wanted to change the law to treat the children flooding into the country from Central America the same way as minors from Mexico are treated, allowing the US government to send the children back to their home countries immediately.

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Nicholas Kamm)

The president also called for parents to stop sending their children north, as they might not even reach the US. “Our message absolutely is don't send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. “If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”

At the beginning of July, CBP began a “Dangers Awareness Campaign” that involves hundreds of billboards and other public and print adverts across Central America and Mexico, as well as some 6,500 public service announcements for radio and TV, all intended to warn of the risks involved with trying to cross illegally into the US.

“The journey is dangerous; children will not get legal papers if they make it; and these children need to be protected because they are our future,” CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said at a press conference unveiling the ad campaign.

The information about asylum approval rates shows that the children are being allowed to stay with the government’s blessings, though. According to the USCIS report, nearly two-thirds of asylum applications are immediately approved. But that doesn’t mean that the 35 percent of unaccompanied alien minors who aren’t granted asylum right away will never get it

"This is just the first bite of the apple. Many more cases can be approved later,” the House Judiciary Committee statement said. “Where an asylum officer does not approve the application, it is then referred to an immigration judge where the applicant can try again. If that fails, they can continue to appeal their case. Once individuals are granted asylum, they have access to all major federal welfare programs.”

Just seven years ago, asylum approval rates by asylum officers were at 28 percent, and those by immigration judges were at 51 percent of cases. By 2013, officers’ approvals increased to 46 percent, and judges’ to 74 percent. The majority of asylum requests are now granted, the committee said, despite an internal Department of Homeland Security report that shows at least 70% of asylum cases contain proven or possible fraud.

People hoping to reach the U.S. ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec (Reuters / Jose de Jesus Cortes)

The report doesn’t include illegal immigrants who never apply for asylum and try to disappear into the shadows, or who spend years in the country awaiting court dates, the Washington Times reported.

The House Judiciary chairman, Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) blamed Obama for refusing to crack down on “rampant asylum fraud” or to implement tougher standards for preliminary asylum screenings.

“New data showing that the vast majority of Central Americans’ asylum claims are immediately approved will only worsen the situation along our southern border by encouraging more to come and take advantage of the situation,” Goodlatte said in the statement.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “[President Obama] makes the situation worse by refusing to enforce our immigration laws.”