An increasing number of Russians and Ukrainians fleeing political repression and war are traveling to Mexico, buying “throw away cars” and driving to the US border to seek asylum, Reuters reports.
Customs and Border Protection data only show figures up to January before Russia invaded Ukraine, but they were already growing rapidly. The war could well encourage greater numbers to make the journey.
US border officials encountered about 6,400 Russians in the four months between October 2021 and January this year, CBP data show, said Reuters. It compares with approximately 4,100 apprehended during the entire 2021 fiscal year, which ended September 30. There was also a significant increase for Ukrainians, with just over 1,000 apprehended between October 2021 and January, compared to about 680 for the last fiscal year.
But this has further increased since Russia invaded Ukraine, with Ukrainians being the third-most-common nationality among arrivals within the last week, according to Reuters.
Russians are also fleeing in growing numbers due to President Putin’s authoritarian crackdown on dissent, political protests, and the independent media.
“Repression is intensifying and the people coming out to protest the war are treated very harshly,” Dmitriy Zubarev told Reuters. “There will be more people trying to use refugee routes to escape the bad situation in the country,” Zubarev, a civil rights lawyer, who left in June 2021, said.
Driving to the border improves the chance of ‘jumping the line’
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Representative Lou Correa, a Democrat from California, said he was taken aback by the number of Russian and Ukrainian migrants arriving by car when he visited the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego and Tijuana about a month ago.
He said a border agent showed him 20 cars that had been pulled over, explaining they were full of Ukrainian and Russian migrants.
“This problem is not going away,” Correa said.
Many migrants from Russia and Ukraine opt to go via Mexico as it is easier to obtain a visa for Mexico. They then seek asylum into the USA rather than get a tourist visa for the USA, Jessica Bolter, an immigration expert at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, explained to Reuters.
Many at the US borders are arriving by car in an attempt to circumnavigate a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42.
Under the policy, most on-foot refugees are turned back at the border. Vehicles are stopped less frequently.
Former U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott told Reuters that this means some are buying cheap cars in Mexico to raise their chances of getting through to the US, describing it as a way to “jump the line.”
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday that his country will continue to accept Ukrainian refugees.
The Biden administration has announced temporary protection from deportation to Ukrainians in the US. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement on March 3 that it had created an 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Ukrainians living in the US since March 1.
Earlier this week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced that over 1 million people have fled Ukraine in the last week, to escape Russia’s all-out invasion dubbed a “special operation” by President Putin. Most have headed to neighboring European countries.