Russians are blocked at the US border, Ukrainians are allowed in


About three dozen potential asylum seekers from Russia were prevented from entering the United States on Friday while a group of Ukrainians produced their passports and were escorted across the border.

The scene reflected a silent but unmistakable change in the differential treatment of Russians and Ukrainians who enter Mexico as tourists and fly to Tijuana in hopes of a chance at asylum in the US.

The Russians – 34 on Friday – had been camping at the US’s busiest border crossing with Mexico for several days, two days after Tijuana city officials gently asked them to leave.

They sat on mats and blankets, checked smartphones, talked and ate, with sleeping bags and strollers nearby, as a stream of pedestrian cross-border commuters passed them. Five young girls sat in a circle and talked, some with stuffed animals.

Days earlier, some Russians were let into the US at the San Ysidro border crossing, while some Ukrainians were blocked. But on Friday, Russians were turned down while Ukrainians were admitted after short waits.

“It’s very difficult to understand how they make decisions,” said Iirina Zolinka, a 40-year-old Russian woman who camped overnight with her family of seven after arriving in Tijuana on Thursday.

Erika Pinheiro, process and policy director for the Al Otro Lado advocacy group, said the US began accepting all Ukrainians on one-year humanitarian probation around Tuesday while blocking all Russians. There was no official announcement.

A Department of Homeland Security memo dated March 11, but not publicly released until Thursday, told border officials that Ukrainians may be exempt from sweeping asylum restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It states that decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis for Ukrainians, but makes no mention of Russians.

“The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that the unjustified Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has caused a humanitarian crisis,” the memo said.

Russian migrants in Tijuana sat alongside a line of hundreds of border residents waiting to cross the border into San Diego on Friday. The line was unimpeded.

A 32-year-old Russian migrant, who had not left the border crossing since arriving in Tijuana with his wife about five days earlier, had no intention of leaving for fear of missing a sudden opportunity.

Within hours of arriving, the migrant, who identified himself only as Mark because he feared for his family’s safety in Russia, saw three Russian migrants being admitted to the United States. After six hours, US authorities returned his passport, saying only Ukrainians would be admitted.

“Ukrainians and Russians are suffering because of one man,” Mark said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He fled shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.

US officials have deported migrants more than 1.7 million times since March 2020 without a chance to see asylum under sweeping authority aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. But the public health agency, known as Title 42, is rarely used for migrants of certain nationalities who are difficult to deport for financial or diplomatic reasons.

But to seek asylum, migrants must be on US soil, and US officials are blocking transit except for those who wish to take them.

Even before the Russian invasion, the United States saw an increase in Russian and Ukrainian asylum seekers, most of whom attempted to enter at official San Diego crossings rather than attempting to cross illegally in deserts and mountains.

More than 1,500 Ukrainians crossed into the US at the Mexican border from September to February, according to US Customs and Border Protection, about 35 times as many as 45 Ukrainians who crossed during the same period a year earlier.

Ukrainians who can reach US soil are virtually guaranteed a chance at asylum. Just four of the 1,553 who entered the September-February period were suspended under the public health order, which allows the US to expel migrants with no chance of humanitarian protection.

The number of Russian asylum seekers entering Mexico via US land crossings surpassed 8,600 from September to February, about 30 times the 288 at the same time a year earlier. All but 23 have been treated under laws allowing them to seek asylum.

Mexican officials have been suspicious of migrants sleeping at the border. Last month they dismantled a large migrant camp in Tijuana with tents and tarps blocking a walkway into San Diego.

To prevent the formation of another camp, the city distributed a letter on Wednesday urging migrants to leave their campsites for health and safety reasons and offering them free accommodation if they couldn’t afford a hotel. Russians are blocked at the US border, Ukrainians are allowed in

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