Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Asylum Requests on the Rise in Wake of Georgia's Immigration Law

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Asylum Requests on the Rise in Wake of Georgia's Immigration Law

Article excerpt


In the year since Georgia passed a law to crack down on illegal immigration, the number of asylum applications filed by Mexicans in Atlanta's immigration court has increased fourfold.

A few applicants have personal experience of Mexico's drug- fueled violence. Many others have not been touched by the bloodshed but are using it as grounds to argue that they should not be deported to Mexico -- a novel legal strategy that seeks to alter existing law.

In the fiscal year that began in October, 224 Mexican nationals have filed asylum applications in the Atlanta court. Only 59 such applications were filed in all of the previous year.

But getting political asylum in Georgia is not an easy go, especially for Mexican immigrants. The six judges at the Atlanta Immigration Court have an average denial rate of about 80 percent, the highest in the nation, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization that monitors the federal government.

Even with the high denial rate, immigrants' attorneys may be filing asylum claims as a last-ditch delaying tactic in some cases.

"We are allowed to ask for it, so I don't care if the judge gets frustrated," said Amna Shirazi, an immigration attorney based in Norcross. "If I can find a better way for my client to get their green card, I do. I only ask for asylum if there is absolutely nothing else I can ask for."

Nationally, 104 individuals from Mexico were granted asylum in 2011; none of those cases were in Georgia.

"Asylum cases are extremely difficult, and Georgia has one of the most conservative sets of judges that work with asylum," said Dabney Evans, co-founder of the Atlanta Asylum Network at Emory University. "One of the challenges is related to the way people make claims."

Most of the Georgia applications thus far in 2012 are so-called "defensive" claims -- filed by people caught in Georgia illegally, who are trying to avoid deportation. By contrast, immigrants who approach officials as they enter the country and ask for asylum are said to have "affirmative" claims.

Those granted asylum in the past have generally been journalists, human rights activists and other individuals who fled Mexico after receiving death threats or being attacked.

That doesn't describe Ivan Penaloza, a 19-year-old student at Central High School in Carrollton, who is more typical of Mrs. Shirazi's clients. Last December, he was arrested and charged with several misdemeanors after he and a classmate got into an argument with a police officer.

When authorities discovered that he was an illegal immigrant, he was sent to the Stewart County Detention Center in Lumpkin, where he will remain until his case is decided.

Mrs. Shirazi is trying to help him stay in the U.S. through political asylum, since he is not eligible for a work permit. …

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