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Caravan Migrants Could Wait Up To Two Months To Apply For Asylum

Migrants rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, which has been tu...

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Above: Migrants rest at the Tijuana sports facility Benito Juarez, which has been turned into a makeshift shelter, Nov. 27, 2018.

Customs and Border Protection officials say Central American migrants in Tijuana will have to wait anywhere from five to eight weeks before they can meet with a CPB officer to request asylum.

Many of the migrants KPBS spoke to weren't familiar with how the asylum process worked. Malena Sorto, age 21, arrived in Tijuana from Honduras four weeks ago after weeks of traveling with her two children.

"I didn't know anything about asylum. I only knew that they were going to give us asylum, but then they threw tear gas at us," she said.

RELATED: Mexico Starts Moving Some Migrants To New Shelter

If Sorto asks for asylum at the border, she will be referred to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer for review. Asylum officers try to determine if the migrant has a legitimate claim of "credible fear". USCIS defines credible fear as anyone who has a fear of persecution or torture. They say the threshold is low on purpose, to capture all people who might be in trouble.

USCIS found that 76% of asylum seekers had "credible fear" in fiscal year 2018. During that time period, they say it was the most number of claims they had ever seen. In the past several months, USCIS has seen the most credible fear claims among migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.

For more information on the number of asylum seekers and what countries they're from click: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/Upcoming%20National%20Engagements/FY18CFandRFstats_2018_06_30.pdf

Once credible fear is established, an asylum seeker is referred to an immigration judge who then decides if asylum will be granted.

RELATED: Warnings Grow Over Unsanitary Conditions In Tijuana Shelter

In a statement to KPBS, USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said: "The extremely low bar for establishing a credible fear is ripe for fraud and abuse. This is because once an individual overcomes this low threshold, the vast majority are then referred to an immigration judge and most are released on a promise to appear for a court date weeks, months or years down the line, regardless of whether they plan to show up."

Department of Justice data from 2012 to 2016 shows that 60 to 75% of asylum seekers who were released from custody did show up for their court dates.

The data shows that from October of last year to April of this year, the most recent numbers available, 22% or approximately 6,300 people were granted asylum by the Department of Justice and almost 12,000 people were denied.

"Returning isn't an option after so much suffering in the journey. I can't go back," Sorto said.

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