Jan 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

U.S. border draws migrants from Russia, Ukraine

Southwest U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions, by migrant country of origin
Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Note: "Northern Triangle" refers to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Migrants from South American countries, Cuba and Haiti — as well as more distant nations like Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and India — drove an uptick in traffic at the U.S.-Mexico border last month.

Why it matters: For years, most migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border have come from Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But last month, they were outnumbered by those making an even longer and more complicated trek to the United States.

By the numbers: The migrants making their way to the border included more than 2,000 Russians and 300 Ukrainians. Most arrived or were discovered at a legal port of entry in San Diego, California, according to the data.

  • In mid-December, 18 Russian migrants were discovered in two vehicles that collided after a Border officer fired his gun to stop them from speeding through an inspection station at the San Diego port of entry, according to a release from Customs and Border Protection.
  • The group included 11 adults and seven children. Two people were injured in the collision, and the use of force is being investigated.
  • A third car also crossed the same port of entry that night with eight other Russian citizens who lacked the proper documents to enter the U.S.

More than 800 people from India also illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Yuma, Arizona, in December.

  • And for the second month in a row, more than 500 migrants from Turkey crossed into El Paso, Texas.

What they're saying: The changes in demographics "speaks more to smuggler tactics than anything else," a CBP official told Axios. "They're running an illicit business and part of any business is growing your customer base."

  • The official emphasized it's not the first time an unusual nationality group has come to the southwest border.
  • More than 1,000 Romanians attempted to cross last May.

More broadly, Border Patrol agents arrested close to 53,000 migrants from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela in December.

  • That's more than those from the Northern Triangle, where the Biden administration has focused its efforts to address the "root causes" of migration.
  • It's also a more than 10-fold increase from the fewer than 5,000 migrants arrested from these nations in December 2020, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
  • After a brief but dramatic decline, migration by Cubans and Haitians has been rising again. The 15,000 apprehended in December was short of the number in September, after an earthquake and presidential assassination fueled a makeshift Haitian migrant camp that captured national attention.
  • That said, it was more than any other month going back to at least October 2019.

What to watch: Mexico implemented new visa requirements last week for Venezuelan travelers passing through the country. Venezuelans were the second biggest group at the border — behind Mexicans — last month.

  • The Biden administration hopes the new rules will slow the number of people arriving at the border, a second DHS official told Axios.
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