July 11, 2008 - 10:41PM
Alicia A. Caldwell
Dozens of Mexicans - including police officers, businessmen, at least one prosecutor and a journalist - are asking for political asylum in the U.S. in a desperate and probably hopeless bid to escape an unprecedented wave of drug-related killings and kidnappings south of the border.
Under U.S. law, fear of crime is not, in itself, grounds for political asylum.
But the sharp spike in asylum applications from the areas wracked by drug-cartel violence - and the willingness of asylum-seekers to sit behind bars in the U.S. for months while they await a decision - are a measure of how bad things are in Mexico and how fearful people have become.
"It's hard. I've been doing this work for 25 years. I've been a reporter for 25 years," said newspaperman Emilio Gutierrez Soto, who is seeking asylum. "We had a life there, a house, my family. It's my country. But it's not safe for a journalist."
Between October and July, at least 63 people have sought political asylum at border crossings in West Texas and New Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That is almost double the 33 claims made for the entire fiscal year that ended in October. Elsewhere in South Texas, asylum applications are also up sharply.
In other sectors along the 1,969-mile border, asylum applications are coming in at the usual pace.
Immigration lawyers say they believe most of the asylum claims in the West Texas and New Mexico sector are motivated by the bloodshed in Mexico, the worst of which is just across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez and surrounding Chihuahua state.