A Letter from Mexico Roils Asylum Debate

A Letter from Mexico Roils Asylum Debate

"Jittery families cram into his tiny office here, daily. Hundreds more have appeared at the San Diego border 1,500 miles away, clutching an official-looking letter bearing his name, gambling that its description of the violence in this blistering stretch of central Mexico will help them gain asylum in the United States.

The letter has quickly become a document of hope for the desperate. And the writer, an obscure local official named C. Ramon Contreras Orozco, keeps delivering, creating an unusual bureaucratic tangle that is testing American asylum policy.

“I’m trying to help,” said Mr. Contreras, the jefe de tenencia, or occupancy chief, of this battle-scarred town, where a drug cartel has declared war on residents. “People keep coming, telling me: ‘I’m afraid for me and my children. I need to go.’ ”

Asylum requests along the border with Mexico are soaring: claims more than doubled to 36,000 in fiscal 2013, from 13,800 in 2012. American officials believe that Mr. Contreras’s letters were presented in nearly 2,000 of the most recent cases, turning him into a focal point for the anxiety over violence in Mexico and making his letter a case study for contentious issues on both sides of the border.

Indeed by furiously churning out documents that highlight Mexico’s inability to protect civilians in this region of avocados, citrus and drugs, Mr. Contreras, 38 — a hefty lime farmer in his first government job — has managed both to shame his own country and to sign his way into the latest immigration feud in the United States." - NYT, Dec. 29, 2013.