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Project February 28, 2019

Fleeing Violence, Mexicans Seek Asylum in the U.S.

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Image by Omar Ornelas and Rebecca Plevin. Mexico, 2018.
Image by Omar Ornelas and Rebecca Plevin. Mexico, 2018.

For decades, people have left Guerrero, one of the poorest states in Mexico, for economic reasons. They worked in the fields in California, or in restaurants in New York, and sent money home to their families. But over the past five years, people have been fleeing Guerrero not to improve their lives, but to save their lives.

Drug-related violence has intensified in Mexico over the past dozen years, as the government has waged a war against drug trafficking organizations. Guerrero is one the most violent states in Mexico, which last year experienced its most violent year on record. Increasingly, the crime and bloodshed is displacing Guerrero residents from their homes, leading many to seek asylum at the California-Mexico border. 

With the support of the Pulitzer Center, Rebecca Plevin and Omar Ornelas report from the city of Chilapa, a turf war battleground, and a mountainous region where poppies are cultivated, to capture life amid violence and show why people are fleeing. They follow the story to the California-Mexico border, where people wait weeks to seek asylum, and to Oregon, where an extended family from Guerrero awaits a judge's decision on its asylum case.

Winning asylum, though, is complicated. Mexican nationals have the lowest asylum grant rate of any national group with a significant number of applicants. And former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently made it harder, after he decided gang violence and domestic violence are not grounds for asylum claims.

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