Updated Mar 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Ukrainians flock to U.S.-Mexico border

An asylum seeker from Ukraine waits with other asylum seekers from her country for US border authorities to allow them to cross the border at the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Crossing port

An asylum seeker from Ukraine is seen waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 1,000 Ukrainians have shown up at the U.S.-Mexico border so far this month — a jump from the 272 encounters in February, according to Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The numbers are low compared to other nationalities arriving at the border in droves — such as the nearly 17,000 Cubans last month. But Russian and Ukrainian migrants present new challenges for border officials and highlight the desperation of some fleeing Russia's invasion.

Between the lines: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently told reporters border officials have been instructed to consider using exemptions for Ukrainians rather than kicking them back to Mexico under a COVID-19-linked policy known as Title 42.

  • This would allow them to apply for asylum in the U.S. The documents indicate at least some Ukrainians have been allowed in to seek asylum.
  • The administration has already paused deportations to Ukraine and other countries in the region, as CBS News has reported.
  • Border officials under President Biden have used Title 42 — a Trump-era policy — to quickly expel migrants more than 1 million times.

What to watch: Recent documents reviewed by Axios highlight local concerns that Russians and Eastern European migrants may be forming a makeshift camp in Tijuana.

  • A similar camp in Del Rio, Texas, hosting mostly Haitian migrants drove national news in September and forced the administration to quickly take action.
  • The number of Russians arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has been declining from a high of more than 2,000 in December to roughly 750 so far this month.
  • It’s still an unusual number and reflects a broader shift in the demographics of people arriving at the southwest border. During the past year, there have been far more people from places outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — including such far-flung departure points as Turkey and India.

What they're saying: “Consistent with the CDC Order, DHS continues to grant Title 42 exceptions to particularly vulnerable individuals of all nationalities for humanitarian reasons,” a DHS spokesperson told Axios.

  • ”All exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis.”
  • The order is still in place for single adults and family units, the spokesperson added.

The big picture: Russia's invasion has now forced more than 3.7 million people to flee Ukraine, according to U.N. statistics.

  • There’s been growing pressure for the U.S. to do more to aid these refugees.
  • On Thursday, the government announced it would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia's aggression through various pathways.

Meanwhile, U.S. border officials are already struggling with overall large numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

They’re on track to reach 200,000 encounters total for March, the Washington Post reported — the highest monthly total since August.

  • The administration has been preparing for the potential of a mass migration event this spring — especially if policies aimed at inhibiting the spread of the coronavirus are ended in the coming weeks.
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