EL PASO – Dozens of Mexicans – including police officers, businessmen, at least one prosecutor and a journalist – are asking for political asylum in the United States in a bid to escape a wave of drug-related killings and kidnappings south of the border.

Under U.S. law, fear of crime is not, in itself, grounds for political asylum.

But the increase in asylum applications from the areas torn by drug-cartel violence – and the willingness of asylum-seekers to sit behind bars in the U.S. for months while they await a decision – are an indicator of how bad things are in Mexico.

“It’s hard. … I’ve been a reporter for 25 years,” said newspaperman Emilio Gutierrez, who is seeking asylum. “We had a life there, a house, my family. It’s my country. But it’s not safe for a journalist.”

Between October and July, at least 63 people have sought political asylum at border crossings in West Texas and New Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

That is almost double the 33 requests made for the entire fiscal year that ended in October.

Immigration lawyers representing El Paso-area asylum-seekers say they have never seen such a flood of people seeking a haven from violence in Mexico, some of the worst of which is just over the Rio Grande in Juarez and surrounding Chihuahua state.

Juarez, a city of 1.3 million across the border from El Paso, has seen a record-breaking 500-plus murders this year.

Immigration lawyers say they are representing several law enforcement officers and others who were targeted for their efforts to stop or expose murderous activities on both sides of the war between Mexico’s military and the drug cartels. The federal government rarely, if ever, grants asylum to a citizen of a U.S. ally who is in trouble because of choices he made, such as where he lives or what he does for a living.

Asylum cases hinge on proving that a person is being persecuted because of his race, religion, political view, nationality or membership in a particular social group, according to Micaela Guthrie, an El Paso immigration lawyer.

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