A little-publicized but fast-growing group of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. through Mexico has been coming from India.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) figures show that the number of Indians detained along America’s southern border swelled from just 76 in 2007 to more than 7,600 last year.
In a fascinating report, National Public Radio found that the migrants tend to be very different than those from other countries. They are neither poor nor dispossessed. Many hail from Punjab, one of India’s most prosperous states.
Paying tens of thousands of dollars to shady “immigration agents,” the migrants receive elaborate itineraries and fake story lines in a bid to gain asylum.
According to NPR, most face no credible threats to their safety or livelihoods. They’re simply leaving India for better job opportunities and/or to reunite with relatives already here. Rejected for visas by going through legal channels, they work the asylum angle.
To enter the U.S., asylum applicants must express “credible fear” of torture or persecution if they were to return to their home country.
Sevak Singh, an asylum seeker, told NPR he claimed he was persecuted for his religion, even though he suffered no such thing. Singh told how he and his fellow travelers rehearsed fake tales about Sikh separatism and persecution. The stories were untrue, but were rooted in decades-old strife.
With the surge of Indian asylum applicants at the Mexico border, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which evaluates credible-fear claims, implemented new India-specific anti-fraud training in April 2019.
In the six months prior to that training, “credible fear” was found in 89 percent of Indian nationals interviewed by USCIS officers. NPR reported that after the training, the rate dropped to 17 percent.
Officials have concluded that a majority of the Indian migrants who claimed persecution prior to April 2019 did so fraudulently. To counter these and other scams, the Trump administration has proposed more actions to fortify the asylum system.
In the meantime, Indian authorities in Punjab have arrested 900 of those sketchy “immigration agents” on fraud charges.
But if one deported migrant’s experience is any indication, bogus asylum seekers will keep coming.
Back home in Punjab after his deportation, Amandeep Singh texted his smuggler, trying to recoup some of the $22,000 in fees he paid for his failed asylum bid. While acknowledging the lengthening odds of gaining entry, the 19-year-old Singh remains determined to get to America. “I will try to go again,” he told NPR.