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Russians, Ukrainians Asking for Political Asylum at US / Mexico Border

Russians seeking asylum
Border authorities are seeing an influx of Russians seeking asylum on the US / Mexico border. Here a border patrol helicopter checks the terrain at El Camino del Diablo at the Arizona/Sonora line. Credit: Dan Sorensen /CC BY-SA 2.0

A number of Russians and Ukrainians who are fleeing political repression and the ravages of war are now traveling to Mexico and claiming asylum in the US after purchasing what they call “throwaway cars” and driving to the border of the United States.

According to Reuters, official figures are hard to come by as the situation is unfolding so quickly. However, the number of Ukrainians and Russians who are showing up on the border of the United States leads officials to believe that the Ukraine war may very well encourage even more people to make this unusual journey to freedom and security.

A spike in the number of Russians who are presenting themselves at the US border amounted to about 6,400 individuals in the four months between October 2021 and January of 2022, according to Customs and Border Patrol data.

Russians, Ukrainians asking for political asylum after Putin crackdown on rights, freedoms

This obviously doesn’t constitute a tidal wave of asylum seekers, but it is a marked increase over last year; approximately 4,100 Russians were apprehended at the border during the entire fiscal year of 2021.

The majority either arrived or were discovered at the legal port of entry in San Diego, California, according to Customs and Border Patrol data.

Eighteen Russian migrants were discovered in December in two vehicles that collided after a Border officer fired his gun to stop them from speeding through an inspection station at the San Diego port of entry, Axios reports.

Related: Russia proposes refugee corridor from Ukraine — to Russia

The group was comprised of 11 adults and seven children; two individuals were injured in the collision, while the use of force in the incident is currently being investigated.

Later that very night, a third car crossed the same port of entry that night carrying eight other Russian citizens who also didn’t have appropriate documentation for entering the US.

Now, Ukrainians are also taking advantage of the chronic lack of security at the southern US border, with just over 1,000 of them taken into custody between October 2021 and January of this year, almost doubling their numbers over the 680 Ukrainians who had traveled a similar route over the last fiscal year.

The influx started to become a torrent after the February invasion of Ukraine; now, people with that origin are the third-most-common nationality among all arrivals last week, Reuters says.

But because of the crackdown on dissent in Russia, many of his people are chafing at the bit to escape from the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin. The Russian parliament decreed last Friday that anyone caught publishing what it deems to be false information about the Ukraine invasion will be subject to a 15-year prison term.

That amounts to severe censorship of all western and independent media in the country, and many media outlets recalled their correspondents from Russia. Over the weekend,thousands of Russians were detained after widespread antiwar protests in the country.

Dmitriy Zubarev, a civil rights lawyer who left Russia in June 2021, told Reuters “Repression is intensifying and the people coming out to protest the war are treated very harshly. There will be more people trying to use refugee routes to escape the bad situation in the country.”

Democratic Representative Lou Correa from California testified at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, that he was amazed by the number of Russian and Ukrainian migrants arriving in cars when he visited the border crossing at San Ysidro, between San Diego and Tijuana approximately one a month ago.

He testified that a border agent showed him twenty vehicles that had been pulled over by borer patrol agents and told him that they were full of Ukrainian and Russian migrants.

“This problem is not going away,” Correa stated.

Mexico has lenient standards regarding the issuance of visas, which attracts a great deal of interest from those who eventually want to go on to the the US. They then subsequently seek asylum into the US rather than asking for a tourist visa, Jessica Bolter, an immigration expert at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, stated in an interview with Reuters.

The tactic of using cars shows that savvy Ukrainians and Russians are paying attention to changing laws; due to the pandemic, the rules for dealing with people who show up at the US border have changed.

A recent coronavirus-related policy called Title 42 calls for the majority of those who arrive there on foot to be turned back; at the same time, vehicles are stopped much less often.

Rodney Scott a former U.S. Border Patrol chief told interviewers that this ruling has caused some asylum hopefuls to buy cheap cars in Mexico in a bid to get to and across the border saying it was a means to “jump the line.”

Meanwhile, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told the press on Monday that his nation will continue to accept Ukrainian refugees, just as they have been.

In addition, there are new protections for Ukrainians already in the US, as Biden administration officials announced there will be temporary protection from deportation for Ukrainians in the States.

Last Thursday, March 3, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement on March 3 that it instituted an 18-month “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) program for Ukrainians living in the country as of March 1.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced last week that over 1.5 million refugees had fled Ukraine in the seven says prior to that time; although the vast majority have gone to neighboring European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania, many experts believe that there is no way even western European countries can easily absorb that many refugees in that short of a time and that there must be resettlement in other nations as well.

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