The surge of Central Americans crossing into the U.S. claiming asylum is no secret around the world. Just a snapshot of those caught entering on any given day is stunning â€“ Nigeria, Romania, Nepal â€“ in addition to the hundreds of Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans.
But one of the fastest-growing groups of illegal immigrants come not from the barrios of South America or the slums of Africa, but mega-sized cities in India 8,000 miles away from the tiny town of El Centro, California, where a handful of Indian nationals are illegally entering the U.S. every day, officials say.
“It’s a common misconception that we just arrest Mexicans – that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said El Centro agent Justin Casterhone. “We arrest people from all over the world.”
Unable to obtain H1b visas, which are given to highly skilled workers, because of a crackdown on the visas by the Trump administration, and because of a fear that Sikhs are coming under attack by fundamentalist groups in their country, Indians are heading to the U.S. — illegally — in droves.
In 2015, agents caught six immigrants from India trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. So far this fiscal year, the figure is already at more than 3,400.
The U.S.-Mexican border is divided into nine sectors. The smallest is El Centro, a tiny 70-mile stretch just west of the Arizona-California border. That area has become a conduit for those from India fleeing their country.
“Communication is very, very hard,” said Casterhone, who like most border agents speaks fluent Spanish, but no Punjabi, the native language. “When trying to communicate, we are gonna have to get the interpreter to get the entire story.”
Agents said they arrest roughly five to 10 Indian nationals a day, with most young men claiming asylum as victims of political or religious persecution. Women, who often belong to a lower class in India’s stratified caste system, claim abuse or fear of retribution from families in a higher social class.
2015 Mexicans 11,320 Indians 6
2016 Mexicans 14,361 Indians 1,455
2017 Mexicans 12,821 Indians 2,028
2018 Mexicans 15,885 Indians 3,408