The increase in applications has prompted heightened federal scrutiny of asylum petitions.
Einhorn predicts that asylum requests have yet to peak. The retired immigration judge, now a law professor at Pepperdine University, said the boom in applications "will probably get more intense and busy before it lessens."
He also said he expected evidence of drug-related violence against Mexican citizens eventually to be persuasive to officers and judges.
"A credible argument can be made that these individuals are unable to obtain protection from . . . the government of their country," Einhorn said. That could make them arguably eligible for asylum, he said.
Some experts caution against expanding the grounds for asylum to accommodate those fleeing the drug violence.
"Clearly, if we start granting asylum to Mexicans, it could start a real flood of applicants, even from people with no plausible case," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which seeks tighter enforcement of immigration laws.
Already, Mexico's drug havoc has generated warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis.
In December, retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, former U.S. drug czar, raised the prospect of "millions of refugees" if Mexico failed to curb lawlessness. The previous month, the U.S. military's Joint Forces Command cited the potential threat to U.S. security of a debilitated Mexican state. Some suggested the U.S. might need to build detention camps and post troops to contain a potential flood of refugees.
However, a State Department official said such scenarios were overblown.
"What is happening is people along the border who have visas, who are middle-class, who are scared of the violence -- you may see a larger number of those folks going to live on the U.S. side," said the official, who under State Department guidelines could not be named. "This is a subset that is different from economic migrants coming into the U.S."
Among the recent asylum petitioners is a Juarez mother of four whose husband, a drug operative, was gunned down gangland-style along with two other relatives. Her lawyer argued that she and her children were uninvolved in drugs yet remained potential targets of retribution killings, and were entitled to protection.
"We're sending these people back to their deaths," said the lawyer, Craig Shagin, who declined to identify his client to protect her and her family.
Last month, an immigration judge ordered the widow deported. In denying her asylum claim, the judge ruled that Mexico's violence was widespread and didn't specifically target her. She also had the option of relocating her family within Mexico, ruled Judge Andrew Arthur in York, Pa.
The woman is appealing the ruling. In the meantime, she is being held in a Pennsylvania immigration lockup, along with her two youngest children, ages 9 and 14.
In El Paso, officials say they are keeping an eye on self-declared drug war refugees -- for their protection.
"The El Paso Police Department knows who has taken asylum over here," said Mayor John Cook. "We don't publicize this or make a big deal of it, but we know who might become targets."
Among the Juarez professionals who have fled is Jorge Luis Aguirre, a veteran journalist who founded the widely read website lapolaka.com.
The site's amalgam of news tidbits and pointed musings is a must-read for Juarez politicos, business leaders and journalists. Last year, several postings questioned the drug-fighting resolve of Patricia Gonzalez, Juarez's top prosecutor.
According to Aguirre, threats filtered back to him, but he became especially alarmed after fellow reporter Armando Rodriguez of El Diario de Juarez was gunned down in November. Aguirre said that while he was en route to his fellow reporter's wake, his cellphone rang.
"You're next," the caller said.
Aguirre, his wife and his three children packed their bags and entered the U.S. on temporary visas. Today, Aguirre publishes his site from hiding in El Paso.
He is mulling a bid for asylum once his temporary visa expires, but Aguirre worries that he could end up jailed, or worse, deported -- a fate that he is sure would mean death.
"I was happy in Mexico; I never intended to leave, until they vowed to kill me," Aguirre said in an interview at an El Paso cafe. "When they tell you that in Juarez, you better believe it."
The nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley collaborated on this report.