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Report: 600K Illegal Immigrants In US South Have Potential Path To Legal Status

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Up to 600,000 illegal immigrants living in several southern states may have some basis for remaining in the U.S. despite their current lack of legal status, according to a new study from the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

A statistical review of immigrant screenings performed by Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), an immigrant legal aid nonprofit, found that about 15 percent of the 4 million illegal immigrants in seven southern U.S. states had grounds to apply for legal residence. Their potential claims are based on fears of persecution in their native countries, family ties and other factors.

UCSD political scientist Tom Wong, who conducted the analysis for CLINIC, told Reuters that the results of his study should give the Trump administration pause as it looks to increase the tempo of deportations.

“As we ramp up immigration enforcement in the United States, we should take this figure and remind ourselves that we shouldn’t deport first and then ask questions,” Wong said.

CLINIC and its affiliates interviewed more than 2,700 immigrants in seven southern states, including Florida, Georgia, Virginia and Texas, reports Reuters. The largest share of those screened who could possibly attain legal status were those who had a legitimate fear of persecution in their home country, which would form the basis for an asylum claim. Other categories of illegal immigrants included those who were victims of serious crimes or who cooperated with law enforcement, and immigrants with family ties to U.S. citizens.

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Reuters that the agency considers any pending appeals before making a decision about whether to initiate deportation proceedings.

“Before carrying out a removal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts a thorough review of each case to determine whether there are any reasons the removal order issued by the immigration court should not be executed at that time,” Danielle Bennett said.

Unauthorized immigrants often turn to the asylum process to gain legal residence in the U.S. Normally, asylum applicants must prove they have a “credible fear” of persecution by their home country governments on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular social group.

Thousands of migrants from Central America, fleeing rampant gang violence, have used high crime as an additional basis for asylum claims. Many of the claims are difficult to verify independently, but immigration judges, carrying a heavy caseload and dependent on overworked asylum officers, often have to take asylum applicants at their word that they have credible fear of persecution.

This leaves the asylum process susceptible to fraud, according to a report from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates lower levels of immigration.

“The evidentiary burdens for aliens seeking asylum and withholding of removal are lower than for aliens seeking other immigration benefits,” wrote CIS resident fellow Andrew Arthur. “In fact, the testimony of [an] applicant [for asylum and withholding of removal] may be sufficient to sustain the applicant’s burden without corroboration.”

The number of asylum applications received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has risen dramatically in recent years, from 56,912 in 2014 to 115,888 in 2016.

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