TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA.- Phil Metzger promises to arrange entry to the United States for Russian-speaking asylum-seekers through unmatched connections with U.S. border officials and people in Mexico who can guarantee safety while traveling. Though seeking asylum is free, the pastor of Calvary San Diego said his services are “not cheap.”
In an interview with a Russian-language YouTube channel, he touted director computer access to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enroll migrants and was vague about “opportunists” in Mexico who ensure customers’ safety after they fly there on tourist visas and while they wait in Tijuana to cross.
“I just know there’s a lot of power on that side that I just don’t control,” the evangelical Christian pastor said. “But I do have one control. I control who goes across. So I have to negotiate. To keep those people safe, I have to negotiate with those in power (in Mexico).”
Asylum is supposed to be free for those most in need; many have been unable to even ask for protection under COVID-19 restrictions that are set to expire Wednesday.
Yet Metzger’s service, as described in the 25-minute interview last month at his church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, is a private money-generating enterprise that uses its government connections to bypass those restrictions. It’s part of an opaque, bewildering patchwork of exemptions CBP has developed. Immigration advocates select who gets in, though CBP has the final say.
Asked about an outside group charging money, the Department of Homeland Security said there is no fee related to exemptions from asylum restrictions and that it will “look into any allegation of abuse.”
“DHS takes any allegations of fraud or abuse of our immigration systems very seriously,” it said in a written response to questions about the service.
The pastor did not respond to text, email, and phone messages left over a week and his office was closed when a reporter went there on a recent weekday afternoon.
This story is part of an ongoing Associated Press series, “Migration Inc,” which investigates individuals and companies that profit from the movement of people who flee violence and civil strife in their homelands.