(Reuters) - The number of Indians arrested for illegally entering the United States has nearly tripled so far in 2018, making them one of the largest groups of illegal aliens apprehended, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said on Friday.
Paying smuggling rings between $25,000-$50,000 (19,176.2 - 38,352.4 pounds) per person, a growing number of Indians are illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and claiming asylum for persecution, CBP spokesman Salvador Zamora said.
Many present viable claims, but a large number are economic migrants with fraudulent petitions that swamp the system and can cause legitimate cases to be “washed out” in the high volume of fraud, Zamora said in an interview.
The Indian embassy in Washington and the Indian consulate in San Francisco did not respond to requests for comment.
Zamora said the CBP expects that the data for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30 will show “around 9,000” Indian nationals had been apprehended versus 3,162 in fiscal year 2017.
Around 4,000 Indians who entered the United States illegally this year did so over a three-mile stretch of border fence at Mexicali, Zamora said.
“The word got out that Mexicali is a safe border city which favours their crossing into the United States,” he said.
Asylum seekers range from lower caste “untouchable” Indians facing death threats for marrying outside their class to Sikhs claiming political persecution, immigration lawyers said.
Fraudulent asylum seekers often present “cut and paste” evidence identical to that of other migrants, Zamora said.
Some 42.2 percent of Indian asylum cases were denied between fiscal years 2012 to 2017, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. That compares with denial rates of 79 percent for El Salvadorans and 78 percent for Hondurans.
After Mexicans, citizens of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were most likely to enter the United States illegally in 2018, according to Border Patrol data. Indians still have some way to go to outnumber the roughly 30,000 El Salvadorans who entered the United States illegally in 2018, the data showed.
After being held in the United States, Indians are often bonded out of detention by human trafficking rings, Zamora said. They then enter indentured servitude in businesses ranging from hotels to convenience stores to pay off smuggling debts and bond fees, Zamora said.
Reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler