The numbers represent what’s known as “defensive” applications, where foreigners who are outside the United States arrive at ports of entry seeking asylum. They do not include numbers of additional “affirmative” asylum requests filed during the same time period by immigrants who are already in the United States without permanent legal status. The department said that those figures were not available.
The figures were released Friday, in part to dispute information, first reported by Fox News, that large numbers of Mexican citizens have been showing up at San Diego ports of entry recently to seek asylum. DHS officials said that the reports have been overstated, calling the increase in asylum requests at those ports “modest.”
Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, the agency said, an average of 30 people per day have arrived at San Diego ports asking for asylum, compared with roughly 170,000 travelers who cross the border there legally each day.
Critics of current immigration overhaul efforts in Washington have claimed that immigrants are using the credible fear claim as a loophole to gain legal entry into the United States, citing fear of drug cartel violence in Mexico. Immigration experts say the concerns are overstated.
The issue gained new attention recently after nine immigration rights activists presented themselves at the border of Arizona in Mexico seeking asylum. After spending several weeks in detention, they have since been released into the United States pending hearings before an immigration judge who will make a final decision on whether to grant their requests.
DHS is quick to point out that such requests from Mexican citizens are rarely granted, noting that, on average, 91 percent are denied.
While it’s unclear what will happen with the nine activists, some say their release into the United States, even if only temporarily, sets a dangerous precedent and could overwhelm ports of entry across the border. All of this is occurring while the White House is pressuring a reluctant Republican-led House to pass a major immigration overhaul bill.
“Frankly, I don’t think the House should pass any bill until the administration shows its willingness to confront and fix this problem,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a vocal opponent of the legislation.
“This is a direct threat to the orderly administration of our immigration law,” Sessions added, predicting that even the perception of easy entry into the United States by claiming asylum could create havoc on the border as thousands more try the same tactic.