The number of people expressing fear of returning to their home countries when stopped at the U.S. border with Mexico has spiked, according to figures released Monday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
U.S. border authorities fielded 92,959 "credible fear" claims -- the initial step toward asylum -- in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 67 percent from 55,584 the previous year. The "credible fear" claims accounted for 18 percent of all people arrested or stopped at the Mexican border in the latest period, up from 13 percent a year earlier.
CBP publicly released the numbers for the first time as more migrants, many of them families and children from Mexico and Central America, seek asylum or other forms of humanitarian protection to gain entry to the U.S. The trend was highlighted by a caravan of more than 6,000 migrants, largely from Honduras, that arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, last month, many hoping to seek asylum across the border in San Diego.
Commissioner Kevin McAleenan noted that most asylum claims are ultimately unsuccessful in immigration court and he renewed the Trump administration's call for Congress to address "these vulnerabilities in our immigration system." Judges granted asylum in 21 percent of their cases in the 2018 fiscal year.
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"These numbers reflect a dramatic increase in initial fear claims by those encountered on the border, which is straining border security, immigration enforcement and courts, and other federal resources," McAleenan said.
CBP didn't say how many people it stopped passed the initial screening, or "credible fear" interview, but historically about three in four clear the hurdle. They are detained or released, often with ankle monitors, while their cases wind through clogged immigration courts.
U.S. border authorities are increasingly telling asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, saying they are they are unable to process claims for everyone at once. The wait in Tijuana was about six weeks even before the latest caravan arrived.
Initial fear claims at official crossings -- the prescribed way to claim asylum -- more than doubled in the last fiscal year to 38,269, according to CBP. Claims by people who crossed illegally between ports of entry rose 43 percent to 54,690.
President Donald Trump last month ordered that asylum be denied to anyone who enters the country illegally from Mexico, but a federal judge in San Francisco blocked him. An appeals court upheld the judge's decision on Friday.