SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Hundreds of Central American migrants may decide this weekend to cross the U.S border from Mexico to seek asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry.
Two San Diego attorneys we consulted say the asylum process is lengthy and far more involved than some might think. Immigration attorney Michelle Stavros said only about 50 percent of asylum applicants are approved.
The percentage is even lower for people from Central America and Mexico, with still fewer asylum requests being granted if the person lacks legal representation.
Once a person requests asylum, they are held in detention, first to be screened through what’s called a “credible fear” interview and then to await a hearing by a judge. Applicants must prove in an interview with officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that they have a “credible fear” of persecution or personal harm if they return to their home country.
“We can’t give asylum to anybody who has a fear of being harmed in their country. They have to have a very specific reason,” said Stavros.
The group now waiting in Tijuana is composed of migrants from Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who have made the trek across Mexico an annual event for the last several years. Many of the migrants are women and children.
President Trump has been highly critical of the group’s travel this year and the Secretary of Homeland Security has warned that anyone who enters the United States illegally will be referred for prosecution.
Immigration attorney Ginger Jacobs said the group in Tijuana plans to present themselves at the San Ysidro port of entry and request asylum in an orderly fashion. Jacobs said it is not enough for the applicant to merely state they are in fear for their lives.
After the interview, which establishes that the applicant actually has a legitimate basis for their asylum request, there must be a trial hearing before a judge, in order for asylum to be formally granted.
“Nobody is like handing out asylum like driver’s licenses,” said Jacobs. While waiting for a decision, the applicant may be held in detention for a period of six months and in some cases, for years.