ATLANTA — The number of Mexican nationals seeking asylum in Georgia has increased since the state passed a law cracking down on illegal immigrants, according to a report Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The newspaper reported 224 Mexicans have filed asylum applications in Atlanta’s immigration court in the fiscal year that began in October, compared to 59 such applications filed in the previous year.
The law makes asylum available to a person who can show he or she has a credible fear of being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or membership in a particular social group.
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.”
The six judges at Atlanta’s immigration court have an average denial rate of about 80 percent, which is the highest in the nation, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization that monitors the federal government.
Most of the Georgia applications so far in 2012 have been filed by people caught in Georgia illegally, who are trying to avoid deportation. There are also immigrants who approach officials as they enter the country and ask for asylum.
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.
Amna Shirazi, an immigration attorney based in Norcross, said she believes a new group should be protected: immigrants who are so Americanized that they would have trouble surviving in their countries of origin.
“We (attorneys) are trying to create this new class of protected people,” she said. “The more Americanized they are, the more tied they are to the United States. We have to litigate this class into existence because it doesn’t exist.”
Phil Kent, a member of Georgia’s Immigration Enforcement Review Board and the national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control, said immigrants should start a visa application before entering the country and not to avoid removal from the U.S.
“Illegal immigrants in our country need to begin a process through their home country to apply for a visa legally. Not to do so, and to tolerate them here illegally or to amnesty them, is a slap in the face to those who play by the rules,” Kent said.
The recent surge of claims by Americanized immigrants who understand the legal system threatens to undermine public faith in the asylum process, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“If you want to preserve the integrity of your laws while being humanitarian, it will become very difficult,” he said. “An increase like this can show how difficult it is to stop them from abusing the system.”