Russians travel to Tijuana to seek asylum in the United States

Maksim Derzhko says that it was one of the worst experiences of his life. A longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he flew with his 14-year-old daughter from Vladivostok to Tijuana, on the US border, and they were in a car with seven other Russians. The only thing that separated them from the possibility of applying for asylum in the United States was an agent from the immigration service.

“It’s hard to describe what it feels like,” he said. “Afraid. Fear of the unknown. It is very hard. We had no other choice.”

All went well. After spending a day in custody, Derzkho was released so he could seek asylum with his daughter, joining thousands of Russians who have taken that path in recent days.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine gave way to harsh sanctions from the United States and its allies, there was a sharp rise in the number of Russian asylum claims. More than 8,600 Russians applied for asylum at the Mexican border between August 2021 and January 2022, compared to 249 in the same period a year earlier. Nine out of ten showed up at the San Diego border crossing.

Emigrants from other former Soviet republics follow the same route, although in smaller numbers. The number of Ukrainians doing so is expected to increase soon.

The United States admitted a Ukrainian family of four on humanitarian grounds Thursday, after rejecting them twice.

Russians do not need visas to visit Mexico, but to enter the United States. Many fly from Moscow to the resort of Cancun, entering Mexico as tourists, and from there they go to Tijuana, where they pile into vehicles they buy or rent.

As they approach the San Ysidro crossing, through which some 30,000 cars a day enter San Diego, nerves mount.

There are concrete barriers in the 24 lanes, in which the promontories in yellow abound. Before reaching the checkpoints there is a security zone.

People who reach the safety zone can now apply for asylum in the United States. But officials on the Mexican side of the border stop them, look at their vehicles, ask for documents and pull over cars that look suspicious.

“We got really scared,” Derzhko, who crossed the border in August, said in an interview from Los Angeles. “The boys who were with us were very alarmed.”

Russians offer recommendations on social networks and messaging services. One who did not identify himself recounted his journey from Moscow’s Red Square to a San Diego hotel, with stops in Cancun and Mexico City. In a video he posted on YouTube, he looks nervous after buying a car in Tijuana. Later, however, he tells from San Diego that everything went well despite the fact that he spent two days in custody in the United States. He advises those who consider following his path not to be afraid.

Russians are all but assured of asylum if they set foot on US soil despite President Joe Biden maintaining severe Donald Trump-era restrictions on immigration. Immigration agents may deny migrants the ability to apply for asylum on the grounds that they could spread COVID-19. But costs, logistical issues and strained diplomatic relations make it difficult to send people of certain nationalities back to their countries.

Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics prefer to reach border crossings by car rather than attempt an illegal crossing through deserts and mountains.

They generally don’t hire coyotes, but rather get intermediaries to help them with their plans, according to Chad Plantz, special agent in charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s Investigations unit in San Diego.

While the Moscow-Cancun route is the most popular, some Russians travel from Amsterdam or Paris to Mexico City and from there to Tijuana, according to Plantz.

There have been tense situations. In one of them, a 29-year-old Russian man driving a sport utility vehicle sped past the yellow headlands in San Ysidro on Dec. 12 and then slammed on the brakes, causing a vehicle carrying six Russian asylum seekers to rear-end him. An agent fired four shots, but no one was injured, according to Customs and Border Protection, which is investigating the incident.

The lawyer for the Russian who was driving the van, Martin Molina, said that his client sped up when he saw a gap in the lanes. In his vehicle were 11 other Russians, including his wife, a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. Passengers raised their hands and yelled “asylum!”

“The only thing he saw was the bright lights of San Ysidro,” Molina said. “I wanted to get there.”

A judge ordered the driver’s release after spending nearly three months in detention. The Associated Press is withholding his identity at the request of Molina’s attorney, who said the publicity could compromise his safety.

The man, who opposed Russian intervention in Chechnya, planned to seek asylum with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

Other incidents raised concern, according to Plantz. On the same December 12, the driver of a car with migrants from Ukraine and Tajikistan ignored an officer’s order to show identification and sped up. The exterior mirror of the car struck the officer’s hand, according to legal documents.

“Surely they are a little confused, they don’t know what they are doing. But they don’t heed the order to stop and speed up,” Plantz said.

Erika Pinheiro, director of litigation and policy at Al Otro Lado, an organization that has filed lawsuits over the performance of border agents, said U.S. agents coordinate with Mexican agents to prevent migrants from reaching Mexico. the security zone.

Yuliya Pashkova, a San Diego attorney who represents Russian asylum seekers, says the number of applicants has increased after the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny last year. Asylum seekers include Putin opponents, gays, Muslims and businessmen who are extorted by the authorities.

“When they think of the United States, they think of freedom, democracy and, to be honest, a good economic situation,” she said.

Maksim Derzhko says that it was one of the worst experiences of his life. A longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he flew with his 14-year-old daughter from Vladivostok to Tijuana, on the US border, and they were in a car with seven other Russians. The only thing that separated them from the possibility of applying for asylum in the United States was an agent from the immigration service.

“It’s hard to describe what it feels like,” he said. “Afraid. Fear of the unknown. It is very hard. We had no other choice.”

All went well. After spending a day in custody, Derzkho was released so he could seek asylum with his daughter, joining thousands of Russians who have taken that path in recent days.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine gave way to harsh sanctions from the United States and its allies, there was a sharp rise in the number of Russian asylum claims. More than 8,600 Russians applied for asylum at the Mexican border between August 2021 and January 2022, compared to 249 in the same period a year earlier. Nine out of ten showed up at the San Diego border crossing.

Emigrants from other former Soviet republics follow the same route, although in smaller numbers. The number of Ukrainians doing so is expected to increase soon.

The United States admitted a Ukrainian family of four on humanitarian grounds Thursday, after rejecting them twice.

Russians do not need visas to visit Mexico, but to enter the United States. Many fly from Moscow to the resort of Cancun, entering Mexico as tourists, and from there they go to Tijuana, where they pile into vehicles they buy or rent.

As they approach the San Ysidro crossing, through which some 30,000 cars a day enter San Diego, nerves mount.

There are concrete barriers in the 24 lanes, in which the promontories in yellow abound. Before reaching the checkpoints there is a security zone.

People who reach the safety zone can now apply for asylum in the United States. But officials on the Mexican side of the border stop them, look at their vehicles, ask for documents and pull over cars that look suspicious.

“We got really scared,” Derzhko, who crossed the border in August, said in an interview from Los Angeles. “The boys who were with us were very alarmed.”

Russians offer recommendations on social networks and messaging services. One who did not identify himself recounted his journey from Moscow’s Red Square to a San Diego hotel, with stops in Cancun and Mexico City. In a video he posted on YouTube, he looks nervous after buying a car in Tijuana. Later, however, he tells from San Diego that everything went well despite the fact that he spent two days in custody in the United States. He advises those who consider following his path not to be afraid.

Russians are all but assured of asylum if they set foot on US soil despite President Joe Biden maintaining severe Donald Trump-era restrictions on immigration. Immigration agents may deny migrants the ability to apply for asylum on the grounds that they could spread COVID-19. But costs, logistical issues and strained diplomatic relations make it difficult to send people of certain nationalities back to their countries.

Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics prefer to reach border crossings by car rather than attempt an illegal crossing through deserts and mountains.

They generally don’t hire coyotes, but rather get intermediaries to help them with their plans, according to Chad Plantz, special agent in charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s Investigations unit in San Diego.

While the Moscow-Cancun route is the most popular, some Russians travel from Amsterdam or Paris to Mexico City and from there to Tijuana, according to Plantz.

There have been tense situations. In one of them, a 29-year-old Russian man driving a sport utility vehicle sped past the yellow headlands in San Ysidro on Dec. 12 and then slammed on the brakes, causing a vehicle carrying six Russian asylum seekers to rear-end him. An agent fired four shots, but no one was injured, according to Customs and Border Protection, which is investigating the incident.

The lawyer for the Russian who was driving the van, Martin Molina, said that his client sped up when he saw a gap in the lanes. In his vehicle were 11 other Russians, including his wife, a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. Passengers raised their hands and yelled “asylum!”

“The only thing he saw was the bright lights of San Ysidro,” Molina said. “I wanted to get there.”

A judge ordered the driver’s release after spending nearly three months in detention. The Associated Press is withholding his identity at the request of Molina’s attorney, who said the publicity could compromise his safety.

The man, who opposed Russian intervention in Chechnya, planned to seek asylum with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

Other incidents raised concern, according to Plantz. On the same December 12, the driver of a car with migrants from Ukraine and Tajikistan ignored an officer’s order to show identification and sped up. The exterior mirror of the car struck the officer’s hand, according to legal documents.

“Surely they are a little confused, they don’t know what they are doing. But they don’t heed the order to stop and speed up,” Plantz said.

Erika Pinheiro, director of litigation and policy at Al Otro Lado, an organization that has filed lawsuits over the performance of border agents, said U.S. agents coordinate with Mexican agents to prevent migrants from reaching Mexico. the security zone.

Yuliya Pashkova, a San Diego attorney who represents Russian asylum seekers, says the number of applicants has increased after the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny last year. Asylum seekers include Putin opponents, gays, Muslims and businessmen who are extorted by the authorities.

“When they think of the United States, they think of freedom, democracy and, to be honest, a good economic situation,” she said.