The Homeland Security Department tentatively approved asylum requests for nine Mexican immigrants, including some who were living in the United States illegally but left and attempted to re-enter as part of a protest against U.S. deportation policies.
Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said DHS ruled that the immigrants have a "credible fear" of being persecuted if they are sent back to Mexico.
"The legal threshold for credible fear is broad and low, in order to ensure that individuals who may face a 'significant possibility' of persecution if removed have the opportunity to have their case heard before an immigration judge," Bentley said.
It is rare for the U.S. government to grant asylum to Mexican citizens.
The immigrants were trying to call attention to hundreds of thousands who have been deported during President Barack Obama's administration. They had cited a credible fear of persecution should they return to Mexico.
An immigration judge will have the final say whether they can remain permanently in the United States. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that runs immigration courts, new cases for immigrants not being held in detention are being scheduled in Arizona for 2014.
Meanwhile, the nine immigrants are likely to be released from detention in Arizona and could be eligible for a work permit in the future.
The nine immigrants spent part of their lives in the U.S. Some returned voluntarily to Mexico years ago, while others had been deported. Three of them were raised in the U.S. and left the country for Mexico expressly to participate in the protest when they attempted to cross the border recently in Nogales.
The immigrants were pushing for legislation being considered in Congress to offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
House Republicans recently took a tentative step toward offering citizenship to some immigrants who fit into this category, but Democrats said it wasn't enough.
The dismissive reaction to the Republican proposal underscored the difficulties of finding an immigration reform compromise in the Republican-led House.