Students in Mattawa discuss the outcome of political asylum - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Students in Mattawa discuss the outcome of political asylum

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MATTAWA, WA - There lives among us a group that's hard to describe. They're not documented, not undocumented, but somewhere in between. They are seeking political asylum, escaping from hometowns overrun with cartels and gangs. Reporter Rex Carlin learned more about a couple families living in legal limbo.

"We felt like they were going to go after us," said Elmer Lazo, a member of a family seeking political asylum. "They killed anyone."

Angel Soto and Elmer Lazo are students at Wahluke Junior High in Mattawa. Both got to the U.S. as refugees from the state of Michoacan in Mexico.

"In one case, they killed my uncle," said Lazo.

The only thing they brought with them are the memories of the violence that's consumed their state.

"My mom was tired of seeing all the police coming into our home because all of the criminals were moving into our neighborhood," said Soto.

This situation was disrupting their day-to-day lives, like going to school.

"You couldn't go to school very much because sometimes they would close the school," Soto explained. "Or a lot of our teachers would move to other places because of the delinquency."

Both students have taken advantage of their education since they got to the U.S. over two years ago, seizing opportunities they didn't have before, like learning a second language.

"I can now communicate with my teachers that don't speak Spanish," said Soto.

But that piece of mind is not guaranteed...their family's cases have not been approved yet. Pasco Immigration Attorney Eamonn Roach says the majority of the people seeking political asylum in the U.S. aren't granted permanent residency because their cases don't present enough evidence.

"Death certificate, you gotta have pictures of your bullet wounds, you gotta have pics of your house getting burnt down, certifications explaining how you live in fear in your hometown," said Roach, "because the cartels have overrun it and if you go outside, you're going to get killed."

Meanwhile, their lives are on pause.

Their day-to-day reality includes court presentations, unexpected phone calls, and visits from immigration agents. They also can't apply for a legal permit until 180 days have passed since their processing of their political asylum case...but even then, these families say their new reality is better.

"It's a different life here."

To travel to the U.S. border and turn yourself over to the authorities on the basis of political asylum is a risk, but Luz Maria Guzman, who also escaped violence in Mexico, says that as a mother, that sacrifice is worth it.

"My kids have peace of mind here," said Guzman. "They come to school and they're happy, and to see them happy makes me happy because we're not worried."

Kids like Soto and Lazo are dreaming big. Soto wants to join the FBI and Lazo is hoping to one day become an architect.

With no legal status, people seeking political asylum in the U.S. can't work until they're granted a Visa. 

Until then, they simply exist here...awaiting their fate.

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