Discussions of the stream of migrants pooling at the southwest border of the U.S. tend to lump them together with those who have already slipped through. That ignores a shifting dynamic, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the number of people sneaking into the country is way down, the number asking to be admitted for humanitarian reasons has ballooned. Last fiscal year, only 304,000 undocumented immigrants were apprehended at the southwest border, compared with 1.6 million in 2000, when most crossed in search of work. Meanwhile, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recorded 78,564 requests for asylum last fiscal year, compared with 13,880 in 2012. Among last year’s asylum seekers, 24,377 asked for help at a port of entry. The others asked after they were apprehended at the border.
This fiscal year, which ended in September, the total is larger: USCIS processed a record-setting 99,035 requests for asylum, including 62,609 from Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans. “We’ve never seen this many people coming to the border to seek asylum,” said Faye Hipsman, a former analyst with the Migration Policy Institute. In the big scheme of things, the numbers are tiny. Combined with government policies aimed at slowing down the asylum process and limiting the number of refugees admitted to the country, the unusually large pool has contributed to a glut of detentions and a backlog of claims. Migrants who persuade an asylum officer they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear they will be persecuted if they return home cannot be deported until an asylum case is processed. Last fiscal year, credible fear was established in three-quarters of the cases.