United States

‘Caravan' Members Face Uphill Battle to Win Asylum: Attorney

Only 25 percent of Central American refugees are granted asylum

More than 150 members of the Central American “caravan” have been processed at the San Ysidro border crossing and have officially requested asylum in the United States.

But getting to the front of the line and making a formal request for asylum is just the first step in a very rigorous process.

Immigration attorneys told NBC 7 the odds are stacked against caravan members, even if they can prove their lives are in danger in their native country.

Irma Rivera, from Honduras, has a compelling and emotional story.

"They killed my husband seven months ago, and we still have no idea who did it," she told NBC 7.

But losing a loved one to violence -- and genuinely fearing for your own safety and that of your children -- is not reason enough to win amnesty in the U.S.

Immigration attorney Andrew Nietor said the Central American refugees often must prove their government is unwilling, or unable, to control gang and drug cartel violence.

Proof can be difficult for refugees who flee their homeland, often with only the clothes on their back, an identification card, and a small amount of money

"They don't have the ability to grab a folder of important documents and bring it with them,” Nietor said. “So it can be very difficult to prove."

Nietor and other attorneys said these refugees must also prove that their entire country, not just the area in which they live, is unsafe and gripped by uncontrolled, deadly violence.

In addition, asylum seekers must often prove they are a target of violence for a specific reason, such as their race, religion, sexual orientation or political opinions.

Their first hurdle is passing what the U.S Department of Homeland Security refers to as a “credible fear” interview.

"Only at that point will their case be referred to an immigration judge,” Nietor said.

He also said statistics show that 75 percent of Central American asylum applicants will have their applications denied.

They can appeal that denial, but Nietor said the asylum seekers are not provided with legal assistance any point in the application process.

Immigration experts told us appeals are also very difficult to win.

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