The House Judiciary Committee has begun looking at reports that Mexican drug cartel members are abusing the U.S. asylum system to bypass regular immigration checks and get into the country, where some are setting up smuggling operations and others engage in the same violent feuds that caused them to flee Mexico in the first place.
In one instance, a woman made a claim of asylum and three months later was apprehended at a Border Patrol checkpoint with more than $1 million in cocaine, according to a memo obtained by the committee that says criminal gangs are exploiting holes in the asylum system.
The memo, viewed by The Washington Times, also details cartel hit-squad members who won access to the U.S. after claiming they feared violence after they “fell out of grace” with their employers.
In another case listed in the memo, two families involved in drug trafficking came to the U.S. claiming “credible fear” of persecution, then began targeting each other once they were here.
“It’s outrageous that members of Mexican drug cartels and others involved in illicit activity are so easily able to exploit our asylum laws and live in the U.S. virtually undetected,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
“Our asylum laws are in place to help individuals who are facing truly serious persecution in their country,” he said. “However, dangerous criminals are gaming the system by claiming they have a ‘credible fear’ of persecution when often they’ve been the perpetrators of violence themselves.”
Homeland Security officials say they screen everyone who makes a credible fear claim and try to weed out those who don’t meet the standards, and try to detain those who do but also could be dangers to the community.
The asylum system has come under increasing scrutiny after reports that the number of people making “credible fear” asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border has more than doubled in the past year.
The rising violence from drug cartels has spawned many of the cases, with Mexican nationals saying they fear for their lives because of family ties or even because of where they live.
“Credible fear” claims are based on the potential for someone to be tortured or persecuted if they return to their home country. But according to information received by the Judiciary Committee, some cartel members themselves are making such claims based on their time in the violent world of Mexico’s drug wars.
“Intelligence clearly indicates individuals with direct and indirect associations to narcotics trafficking and other illegal activity are now residing in the U.S. under the protective status of [credible fear]. In some cases ongoing actions by these individuals clearly pose a significant threat to the communities in which they now reside,” the memo says.
In the case of the woman caught with $1 million worth of drugs, the memo said she was married to someone involved with a smuggling operation in the El Paso, Texas, area.
A call to the U.S. attorney’s office in the western district of Texas seeking information on the woman, whom the memo didn’t name, wasn’t returned Thursday.
The memo, stamped “For Official Use Only” and dated Oct. 2, says it was written by the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats command in the El Paso sector of the border. A Judiciary Committee aide said the memo was obtained from a source within the Homeland Security Department and was circulated within the department.
The memo argues that there isn’t enough scrutiny on the front end when someone makes a “credible fear” claim, and said that creates a loophole that can be exploited.