Asylum claims have skyrocketed among migrants coming to the southwest border in recent years, but a survey conducted recently by a Jesuit-run research and advocacy organization suggests a more mundane motivator — economic opportunity.

The Reflection, Research, and Communication Team (ERIC-SJ) surveyed 1,584 Hondurans in February and found that of those who had a friend or relative who left in the past four years, 82.9 percent listed lack of employment and opportunities to generate income as the top reasons for doing so, according to a report this month by the organization.

The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) provided a summary of the Spanish-language report.

Only 11.3 percent of respondents said they were fleeing violence. That figure is down from 16.9 percent who listed violence in a 2015 survey conducted by ERIC-SJ.

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Mark Krikorian, CIS’s executive director, said the poll reinforces the belief of many critics of the current American immigration system that most people claiming asylum do not meet the refugee criteria under U.S. or international law.

“A refugee is a person who has experienced or fears persecution based on five specific grounds laid out in international treaties and U.S. law,” he said in a statement. “People fleeing poverty, disorder, or generalized violence do not qualify.”

Yet people claiming a “credible fear” of persecution are overwhelming the U.S. border. Although border crossings have declined since 2013, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters that the share of migrants claiming asylum jumped from about 1 in 100 then to about 1 in 10 today.

The CIS summary of the ERIC-SJ report indicates that only a third of respondents knew someone who had left in order to escape violence. The CIS report notes that homicides in Honduras have fallen since 2012 and decreased by almost a quarter from 2016 to 2017.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the think tank, said the survey is telling but not surprising.

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“It reveals what Border Patrol and others have been saying all along,” she said. “People are coming not because of persecution or they’re in imminent danger, but because under our current policies, if they cross the border, they’re very likely to be able to stay and set themselves up for a better life.”

Vaughan said the increase in asylum applications reflects how successful smugglers have been in instructing people what to tell U.S. customs officials.

“They’re grasping for an explanation other than the obvious,” she said.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said people leaving Central America looking for better economic opportunities hardly is a new phenomenon. And the political conditions are more or less the same as they were five years ago, he added.

But with immigration courts badly backlogged, Mehlman said, people claiming asylum can expect to be able to live and work legally in America for months or years before their cases are ever heard.

“At some point, you begin to make the argument, ‘I’ve been here so long, you can’t deport me,'” he said.

That is precisely what has happened during President Donald Trump’s term in office each time his administration has announced it was winding down so-called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people from various nations that suffered natural disasters and were allowed to stay in the United States.

In most cases, the disasters that triggered TPS designations occurred many years ago. Yet, activists complained that not renewing the status was cruel since the recipients had laid down roots in the United States.

Trump Should Look Closely at How Clinton Dealt with Asylum Seekers

“This is the way people are gaming the system,” Mehlman said. “There has to be a system in place that protects people with legitimate claims and deals with people expeditiously.”

Mehlman noted that during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s, the administration took a number of steps to fix an asylum crisis. One strategy was to put new cases at the front of the line so that people would get the message that they there would be a fast decision on their applications and that bogus claims would not be rewarded.

The administration also picked up people trying to reach the United States by boat before they reached land and made determinations on Coast Guard ships about persecution claims. Mehlman noted that adjudicators also made determinations at airports when foreigners began arriving on airplanes without travel documents.

“You got to the airport, and that was as far as you got. You were on the next flight home,” he said. “Once you walk out the door with a notice to appear [in immigration court], the game is over.”

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.