Hundreds of Mexicans fleeing the increasingly lawless state of Michoacán have sought asylum at the San Ysidro and Otay ports of entry this week, an anonymous source has told the Baja California daily El Mexicano.
Monday, August 5, was the day on which the most asylum petitions were received — a total of 199, the source told El Mexicano. The newspaper did not provide additional figures for the rest of the week.
Authorities suspect the asylum-seekers are being instructed by human traffickers to present themselves to immigration officials at the border as a means to get into the U.S. with no risk of deportation, the source said.
Once a request for asylum is made, said the source, an immigrant is allowed to remain free in the U.S. until the petition is adjudicated in a federal court. While awaiting a hearing, the asylum-seekers are not held in a detention center but instead are given a hearing date and told to show up in court then, according to the anonymous source.
In the meantime, the source told El Mexicano, most of the asylum-seekers disappear into the U.S. and never show up for their court hearing.
The Mexican state of Michoacán has become the site of increasing violence in recent months as drug gangs shoot it out in turf wars over trafficking routes.
"We are hitting rock bottom," the archbishop of Morelia, Alberto Suarez Inda, told the Catholic press agency Fides on August 6. "It is time to react and say that one cannot go on like this. Things must change." (Morelia is the capital city of Michoacán.)
"Michoacán has become the scene of violent clashes between armed groups of drug trafficking," Fides reported. "The situation of violence and widespread corruption has meant that even petty crime has the opportunity to intimidate the population. So armed groups in the area of 'self-defense' have been formed that have collected among their members former prisoners or assassins paid by small local entrepreneurs who have gradually taken control of the small towns in the area. Lately these armed groups clashed with elements of the army or the navy sent to the scene to restore order."
In May, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto dispatched federal troops to the region in an effort to quell the violence — so far with little success. Residents of some of the towns hard hit by the violence cheered as the troops arrived, according to press reports.
Update: On the morning of 8/9/13, El Mexicano published an updated version of the story in which they removed mention of San Ysidro; apparently, all the asylum-seekers showed up at Otay. Also, according to new version, a "how-to" video instructing would-be asylum seekers on the process has recently been selling on Tijuana streets for about $300 (a lot less than what the coyotes charge).