'Plata o plomo,' silver or lead

The United States of America has urban killing zones that are scattered throughout the country, such as Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; and Camden, N.J. This is nothing compared to the murderous storm that has killed hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans to our south.

This killing zone starts at the Texas-California border with Mexico and includes almost all of Mexico and Central America, in which people are killed by the thousands, men and women are beheaded, soldiers run amok, officials cower and refuse to protect people. Well-armed private armies fueled and paid for by drug money terrorize over half the Mexican states.

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Local Mexicans can succumb to the terror, or arm themselves and fight back or leave for "El Norte," the United States of America, where over 10 million of their relatives and friends have escaped to over the years for myriad reasons — safety being one of them. Depending on the Mexican government to protect them is out of the question. If the government could resist, 150,000 dead Mexicans might not be dead.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in 2006 and sent the army into cities like Tijuana and Juarez to combat the giant drug cartels there and at best they fought a draw; large segments of Mexico are controlled by the cartels with a simple policy – they posit a traditional Mexican offer to officials, police and legislators that can’t be refused: "plata o plomo," silver or lead, take your pick, coins in your pocket or lead bullets in the head.

There is a third way for Mexicans threatened by the cartels or their lackeys in government: asylum in the United States of America.

U.S. immigration law has many components that allow people to apply for admittance, residency, citizenship, work status and a means to apply for political asylum based on refugee status from their home countries if they can prove they have been persecuted and harmed or will be if they return.

With Mexico and Central American countries littered with thousands of dead bodies and decapitated heads lining roadways and thousands upon thousands of "refugees" asking for relief, the situation has grown so large it is time for Americans to take notice and demand action that reflects our national character.

We have come a long way from the 1930s, when an anti-Semitic U.S. State Department turned away thousands of European Jews fleeing the ultimate in persecution and genocide.

The law requires people who declare themselves refugees to overcome burdens that aren't easy to surmount. They must prove that they are a member of a relevant group, race or ethnicity that has drastically suffered or been persecuted specifically because they are a member of that group. They must prove persecution and harm.

They must prove that if they are sent back, they will suffer in the future the very persecution they have already suffered. In the case of Mexico, they must prove that despite the persecutor not being the government, that the government is guilty by omission in that it does little if anything to protect the self-proclaimed refugees.

This is not a theoretical discussion. On the March 2015 docket of the Immigration Court in San Diego is the case of a family from the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, in which world famous Acapulco is the main city. They asked for asylum, all 17 of them, when they walked through the massive border crossing in South San Diego's San Ysidro Port of Entry.

In early 2013, the family of fishermen was attacked by masked armed men in military-style uniforms and automatic weapons. One attack occurred on a road on which the fisherman was returning home from work and the other in the family village itself. The fisherman was kidnapped by the gunmen, beaten, tortured and threatened with death if his family didn't produce a $100,000 (U.S.) ransom. His brother-in-law was kidnapped, murdered and beheaded. His father-in-law died of gunshot wounds. His wife and family, including young children, were traumatized by the terrorist gunmen.

When the wife complained to local authorities, they did nothing. After he was released by his captors, he went to the authorities and they suggested he and his family leave their lifelong homes. They, in fact, helped the family go to another village some distance away. Threats reached the family there, so they left and presented themselves at the American border crossing 2,000 kilometers to the north weeks later.

Kidnapping, murder, beheadings and lack of help and protection by the government has caused this family of 17 to ask for asylum in the United States.

Headlines this summer have blasted the story of thousands of unaccompanied Hispanic children overwhelming the border in Texas. Hidden by these stories are those of people who have been harmed, kidnapped, beaten, tortured or had relatives murdered and beheaded by the efficient well-armed criminal class of Mexico. Quietly, they are appearing before immigration judges with horror stories and decisions will be made that can be of life and death, not what school they will attend.

Contreras formerly wrote for the New American News Service of The New York Times.