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More Russians, Ukrainians seek asylum at U.S.-Mexico border -Breaking

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© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: After crossing from Mexico, a mother of two seeking asylum in America from Ukraine, waits to see if her daughter will be taken by the U.S. border guard. REU

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Kristina Cooke, Ted Hesson, and Dasha Afanasieva

(Reuters) – A rising number of Russians, Ukrainians, and others are travelling to Mexico to buy throwaway cars, and then drive across the border to the United States in search of asylum. This trend could be accelerated by Russia’s invasion Ukraine, which has caused more than a million Ukrainians to flee their homelands.

According to Customs and Border Protection data, approximately 6,400 Russians were encountered by U.S. border officers in four months that ran from October 2021 through January 2019. It’s nearly 4000 more than were apprehended over the whole 2021 fiscal, which concluded Sept. 30. This is similar to the jump for Ukrainians. There have been approximately 1,000 arrests since January 2021, as opposed to 680 during the previous fiscal year.

CBP data show that only a fraction of the 670,000 U.S. Border Agents arrested migrants in the first six months of the fiscal year 2022. Most of the migrants stopped came from Central America or Mexico, and they were quickly removed from the United States.

However, almost all of the Russians or Ukrainians were allowed to stay while they are pursuing asylum claims. Their presence at border-area shelters that assist newcomers has also been noted.

According to the San Diego Rapid Response Network data, Russians are consistently among the three most common nationalities that arrive at San Diego shelters since June. This is a result of a collaboration of non-profits, lawyers, and community leaders. The third-most common nationality was Ukrainians, according to arrivals last week.

CBP data only includes migrants that arrived in the United States before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2019. One current border official, and one former one spoke on condition anonymity with Reuters to say that they could see more people fleeing as the fighting escalates.

Over 1,000,000 refugees fled Ukraine in the midst of a Russian attack on troops, tanks and missiles. Russia calls this a “special operation”. Many have fled to neighbouring European nations. These hosts will be under tremendous pressure due to the speed and scale of the exodus and may even push them further.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now cracking down on domestic dissent by opening jails for anti-war protesters, and shutting down independent media outlets. Western nations have imposed strong financial sanctions on Russian citizens. This has increased the migration pressures in Russia.

Asylum seekers from Russia and Ukraine are exchanging tips via social media about how to travel to the U.S. south border via Mexico.

Dmitriy Zubarov, a Russian dissident made this trek last year. Zubarev, a civil rights lawyer and activist, had been involved in the campaign for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s presidency. He is currently behind bars. After the Russian government labeled Navalny’s organisations “extremist”, Zubarev ran away, fearful of the Russian crackdown on dissent.

Zubarev stated to Reuters that he traveled from Moscow on June 20, 21 to Cancun in Mexico and then flew over to Tijuana to meet 11 migrants. He said that he sought asylum as soon as he reached the border and was allowed to continue his case. Zubarev now resides in Connecticut. He believed that there would be more Russians.

Zubarev stated to Reuters that “repression is increasing and people who come out to protest war are treated very harshly.” Zubarev said that more people will seek refugee routes in order to flee the country’s dire situation.

A request by the Russian government for comments on Zubarev was not answered immediately.

A Russian Embassy emailed a statement saying it was concerned about the “detention” of Russian nationals at the U.S. Mexico Border near San Diego. The State Department had been contacted to confirm their identities.

The State Department didn’t immediately reply to our request for comment.

Joe Biden (the U.S. President) and his top officers have stated that they are supportive of both Ukrainians, as well as Russians who took to the streets in protest against the invasion.

His administration has played a second role in Europe’s refugee crisis response and stated that it expected most of the fleeing Ukrainians would travel to Europe.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced that it would grant temporary deportation relief to thousands of Ukrainians who were already living in the United States of America as of March 1st.

On Wednesday, Lou Correa (a Democrat from California) stated that he was shocked by how many Russian and Ukrainian migrants arrived by car at the San Ysidro entry point between San Diego, Tijuana, about a month back.

Correa recalls that a border agent pulled 20 cars over and said they had Ukrainian or Russian migrants.

Correa stated, “This problem will not go away.”

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Title 42 is a U.S. pandemic-era policy that saw most migrants who crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. are quickly expelled and denied asylum.

Official pedestrian crossings can be used to turn people back on foot before they arrive in America. Less frequently, vehicles are stopped.

According to Rodney Scott, a former chief of U.S. Border Patrol, certain migrants have been buying cars cheaply in Mexico, to increase their chances to cross the border and file their claims. He said, “It’s an easy way to get over the line.”

CBP stated that in December 18 Russian migrants sped to San Ysidro with two vehicles. CBP stated that a CBP officer opened fire on the vehicles and struck one, which caused it to collide with the other. According to the agency, two of the migrants sustained minor head injuries. According to the statement, another car with eight Russian nationals was also on the way, it made its way into the United States.

These migrants claim to have gained entry through Mexico. They are sharing information with other hopefuls via Russian YouTube or private chats using secure apps, such as Telegram.

These chat members describe their travel routes as well the numbers and names of those who can assist them in procuring cars. A chat member stated that “helpers” would charge $1,500 to rent a car in a Russian Telegram group. This was viewed by Reuters. Another member tried to get a vehicle for his Ukrainian mom.

Some Russians, as well as Ukrainians, have tried to cross between the ports of entry. A Reuters photographer witnessed a couple from Ukraine with their twin girls and a boy, turn themselves in to U.S. border officers and request asylum.

Jessica Bolter from the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute said that high approval rates in U.S. immigration courts for Russian asylum seekers and Ukrainians could be attractive to others.

The government’s 2022 fiscal year data shows that approximately three quarters (or more) of Russians, and half (or less) of Ukrainians applied for asylum before the end of this fiscal year. Such cases may take many years in the U.S. backlog system.

Bolter explained that Mexico is attractive due to the ease with which Russians and Ukrainians can obtain visas for travel to Mexico. Then, they will fly for tourist purposes to the U.S. border. American tourist visa requirements tend to be more rigorous.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexican President, said Monday that his country will support Ukrainian refugees.

He said, “We aren’t going to close down the country.”

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According to Zubarev the Russian dissident Zubarev claimed he was deputy coordinator of Navalny’s 2017 campaign headquarters located in Vladivostok. According to a complaint Zubarev filed at the European Court of Human Rights, Zubarev reported that Russian agents searched Zubarev’s apartment in 2017.

Zubarev claimed in an interview that his legs gave way when Navalny’s organization was named as extremist by the Russian government last year. “I knew what would follow,” Zubarev said. “It was only a matter-of-time before the risk to my personal safety became excessive.”

He said that many of his friends and activists had traveled through Mexico to reach the United States before him. They shared their journeys. He spent the first few days resting in Cancun hotels before heading for Mexico. He met other Russians who were trying to enter the United States.

Zubarev refused to disclose how the group acquired the vehicle, but Reuters spoke with an intermediary that has assisted Russians in finding vehicles in Tijuana.

According to the intermediary, “It’s very different with them than it is with other migrants. They have more resources.”

Zubarev claimed that after asking the U.S. for asylum, he had been held in detention for 53 hours with approximately 15 migrants at a border station cell.

He made his way to Connecticut and gathered his engineering skills to start a company that works with fiber optic cables while he awaits the outcome of his case.

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