Fact Check: Do Mexicans Have a Blank Check for Asylum Claims?

A Fox report claims hundreds are seeking asylum in recent days.

ByABC News
August 15, 2013, 12:01 PM
Male undocumented immigrants wait in a holding cell at the U.S. Border Patrol detainee processing center on April 11, 2013 in McAllen, Texas.
Male undocumented immigrants wait in a holding cell at the U.S. Border Patrol detainee processing center on April 11, 2013 in McAllen, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

Aug. 15, 2013— -- Here’s what a local Fox news station in Phoenix reported a few days ago:

A group of 200 migrants “overwhelmed” a border-crossing station near San Diego when they entered and requested asylum. According to the report, they used “key words and phrases” to be allowed to come into the country.

Specifically, the report says that the migrants claimed they had “credible fear” of cartels in Mexico.

The story -- and a similar one that followed -- paint a picture of a wave of possible asylees storming the border from Mexico.

But is that really plausible? Here are some reasons to be skeptical:

1. Thin sourcing.

The Fox story cites an anonymous source, only saying that it’s “a person who did not want to be identified on camera.” It’s not clear whether the source is a Border Patrol agent or not.

A second source on the story, Pete Nunez, is described as “a former U.S. Attorney and immigration expert.”

Nunez also happens to be the chairman of the board of director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group whose mission is to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S.

Fox doesn’t mention that.

2. Hardly anyone gets asylum.

In 2011, asylees only made up 5 percent of the people who received green cards and only 25,000 people were granted asylum. That’s a small fraction of the larger pool of legal immigrants who enter the country each year.

About half of the people granted asylum were from China, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela. In recent years, they’ve been the top beneficiary countries.

On the other hand, only a tiny number of Mexicans are typically granted asylum. While 6,100 Mexicans applied in 2011, only 294 were actually approved.

3. Cartel violence doesn’t guarantee asylum.

If the Fox story is true, and hundreds of people entered the country by claiming that they had “credible fear” of cartels, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising.

The drug war in Mexico has led to an estimated 60,000 deaths from 2006 to 2012. Some towns feel so helpless against cartels that they’ve actually taken up arms in self-defense.

And the term “credible fear” is used to seek asylum. A few weeks ago, a group of activists crossed from Mexico to the U.S. and were granted an asylum hearing based on the idea that they had a credible fear of harm or death if they returned to Mexico.

But being granted a hearing is one thing. Actually receiving asylum is much more difficult, especially from Mexico.

We’re still waiting on the number of recent asylum claims from the Department of Homeland Security, which would clear up whether anything out of the ordinary is happening. But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of this report, if not because of the facts, then because of the message.