Political Asylum Denied More Frequently in El Paso

By Brittney Hodnik
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States – A report this week shows disturbing numbers regarding political asylum petitions in the United States.  Specifically, two El Paso judges have denial rates well above the national average.  The El Paso, Texas location deals mostly with immigrants seeking asylum from Mexico or Central America locations.

Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez in New Mexico in 2010. (Image courtesy of New York Times)
Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez in New Mexico in 2010. (Image courtesy of New York Times)

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (“TRAC”) is a non-partisan center based at Syracuse University.  The TRAC reports on the enforcement activities of the federal government, according to The Texas Tribune.  This most recent report found that the national average for judges who have heard 100 cases or more is a denial rate of 53.2%.  Judges William L. Abbott and Thomas C. Roepke however, have denied political asylum to 83.3% of their combined 346 cases.

Furthermore, the TRAC study notes, “the unusual persistence of these disparities – no matter how the asylum cases are examined – indicates that the identity of the judge who handles a particular matter often is more important than the underlying facts,” according to The Washington Independent.

According to The El Paso Times, in order to obtain political asylum, a person must show a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.

Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez fled Chihuahua, Mexico after receiving threats from the Mexican military.  He believes that if he and his teenage son return to Mexico, it is a certain death sentence, as reported by The Texas Tribune.  Gutierrez’s attorney, Carlos Spector is aware of the problems with the asylum process.

“There is a political predisposition by the judges to deny Mexican asylum claims for political and policy reasons,” Spector told The Texas Tribune.  Another immigration attorney, Jacqueline L. Watson told the Texas Tribune that it is difficult to convince judges that there is an imminent threat to life or liberty.

However, Mexico certainly has a long history of terrible human rights abuses.  Many judges deny political asylum citing the fact that things are supposedly getting better in Mexico.  “Tell them to go live in Juarez to see if it’s getting better,” Gutierrez told The Texas Tribune

The Washington Independent reports that many judges deny asylum specifically to Mexican immigrants because the United States has already provided political and financial backing to help fight drug cartels.  Granting political asylum could harm relations, suggesting that the [Mexican] government could not protect its own citizens.

The Syracuse report further noted that the system is overwhelmed causing major delays in the asylum process.  Consequently, Gutierrez’s case has been postponed until May 2012.

For more information, please visit:

Hispanically Speaking News — Immigration Judges at Border Have Higher Rate of Denying Asylum Petitions — 1 Aug. 2011

The Washington Independent — El Paso Immigration Judges Deny Asylum Requests at Higher Rate Than National Average, Finds Report — 1 Aug. 2011

El Paso Times — Law Inhibits Many Mexican Asylum Cases — 31 July 2011

The Texas Tribune — Border Asylum Judges Deny Most Petitions — 31 July 2011

Author: Impunity Watch Archive