The United States Customs and Border Protection on Friday said the number of Indians arrested for illegally entering the country has nearly tripled this year, reported Reuters. This makes Indians one of the largest groups to be apprehended for illegal entry.

Spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection Salvador Zamora said the agency expected the data for the fiscal year, which ends on Sunday, will show “around 9,000” Indian nationals had been apprehended. During the 2017 financial year, 3,162 Indians were apprehended for illegally entering the country. The US fiscal year is from the beginning of October to the end of September.

Zamora said a large number of Indians were illegally crossing the US-Mexico border and claiming asylum for persecution. They were even paying smuggling rings between $25,000 (Rs 18.12 lakh) and $50,000 (Rs 36.25 lakh) a person, he said.

Zamora said many who enter the US illegally present viable claims, including asylum seekers who claim they face political persecution or death threats for marrying outside their class or caste.

A large number of the people, however, are economic migrants who present fraudulent petitions that swamp the system and can cause legitimate cases to be “washed out” in the high volume of fraud, he said. Fraudulent asylum seekers often present “cut and paste” evidence identical to that of other migrants, he added.

The spokesperson also said around 4,000 Indians who entered the US illegally this year did so over a three-mile stretch of border fence at Mexicali in Mexico. “The word got out that Mexicali is a safe border city, which favours their crossing into the United States,” he said.

After being held in the US, human trafficking rings often post bail for Indians being held in detentions, according to Zamora. They then enter indentured servitude in businesses, including working at hotels or convenience stores, to pay off smuggling debts and bond fees.

According to border patrol data, Mexicans, citizens of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were most likely to have entered the United States illegally in 2018.

The Indian Embassy in Washington and the Indian consulate in San Francisco did not respond to Reuters’ requests for a comment.