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Experts say U.S. political asylum laws may be outdated

News articles in recent months tell stories of state immigration laws and challenges, proposals for immigration reform related to DREAM Act ideas or employment-based immigration issues and stories of deportation. Certainly, many Florida immigration stories center on the same issues. An interesting story ran in a Texas newspaper quoting a number of experts who say the current state of the law regarding asylum in the United States is out of date.

The rules regarding asylum are complex, and some experts in immigration issues say the current asylum laws may not fully reflect today's asylum issues. Judge Dana Leigh Marks, head of the national immigration judges' union, says the laws regarding asylum predate a number of issues arising in today's world. "These are newly emerging situations, so case precedents do not squarely address them," she says.

The current asylum law was written 30 years ago as part of the Refugee Act of 1980. Some experts say the law was written to offer protections during the Cold War. Statistics show that foreign nationals from Mexico may be more adversely affected than nationals from other countries.

Government statistics show that only 3.3 percent of the 25,233 political asylum petitions submitted from Mexican nationals between 2006 and 2010 were granted. During the same time frame, immigration courts granted roughly 29 percent of all asylum cases submitted.

The El Paso Times tells of a woman seeking asylum who told immigration officials that she believed that she would be killed if she returned to Mexico. She says she lost six relatives in a feud between two different drug cartels. Other family members were subjected to other violence and she believes the cartels retaliate against family members as a message to potential rivals.

Her application for asylum was still denied. The judge on the case found that harm to family members does not necessarily constitute persecution, as required to achieve asylum. The judge also suggested that the woman could relocate to another part of Mexico where she would be safe.

In a political asylum case, a petitioner must prove that there is a legitimate fear of persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Although the facts of a specific situation can sometimes meet the standard, some judges may find drug cases in today's world are not the type of situations the Cold War laws were written to protect.

Individuals seeking political asylum can speak with a seasoned Florida immigration attorney who understands the complex nature of asylum cases.

Source: El Paso Times, "Law inhibits many Mexican asylum cases," Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera, July 31, 2011

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