US officials treated 9,926 undocumented Ukrainians in the last 2 months, data show

Nearly 10,000 undocumented Ukrainians have been treated by U.S. border officials in the past two months as thousands of refugees are displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have traveled to Mexico in hopes of seeking refuge in the United States, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) obtained by CBS News.

Between February 1 and April 6, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported encountering 9,926 Ukrainians who lacked the necessary legal documentation to enter the country, the unpublished agency statistics show. On April 6 alone, 767 Ukrainian migrants were treated by CBP.

The vast majority of Ukrainians treated by US authorities have sought to enter official ports of entry, as opposed to crossing the border illegally, a person with direct knowledge of the data told CBS News.

The figures show the dramatic increase in the number of Ukrainians entering U.S. border custody over the past few weeks. In February, CBP officials reported meeting 1,147 undocumented Ukrainians, including 272 migrants along the Mexican border, according to data from public authorities. Russia’s invasion began on February 24th.

Between February 1 and April 6, the CBP also reported 41,074 “legal entries” by Ukrainians who were allowed to enter the United States, which may include visas issued by the United States to short-term travelers, including tourists, or immigrants who are allowed to live in the USA permanently. , shows the internal agency data.

Russia’s invasion triggered the biggest displacement crisis since World War II, causing 4.4 million refugees to flee to other European countries in just over two months. While the vast majority of displaced Ukrainians remain in Europe, a growing number have sought to reach the United States

Refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine await the processing of their applications along the US border in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 9, 2022.

PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

On March 24, President Biden promised to receive up to 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the war over an indefinite period of time. But the administration has not yet announced any concrete steps to reach the ambitious plan and speed up a visa and refugee process that typically takes months and years to complete.

Faced with limited direct routes to reach the United States, thousands of Ukrainians have embarked on a day-long trek to Mexico, typically involving several flights to reach the U.S. southern border, where officials have been asked to consider admitting Ukrainians, on despite the onset of the pandemic restrictions for other migrants.

It is unclear how many of the 9,926 Ukrainians treated by U.S. border officials were allowed into the country. CBP did not respond to requests to comment on the data and provide additional statistics.

The unprecedented wave of Ukrainians traveling to Mexico in hopes of entering the United States is a symptom of a dysfunctional and withdrawn immigration system not designed to respond to budding refugee crises, especially after numerous Trump-era restrictions and The COVID-19 pandemic, experts say. said.

“The fact that Ukrainians travel to Mexico and try their luck at the US-Mexico border as the fastest option shows just how slow and clogged our immigration system is,” said Julia Gelatt, an analyst at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute. . “We do not really have a fast response part of our immigration system that can create roads for people in an emergency.”

The ruined immigration system appears in full in Tijuana, Mexico, where a group of volunteers from Slavic churches in the United States have set up an ad hoc process to include Ukrainians on a list so they can wait their turn to present themselves to U.S. officials on San Ysidro border crossing in Southern California.

Once their numbers have come up, families and adults from Ukraine are generally allowed to enter the United States after some treatment and receive a year of humanitarian probation, which allows them to work and live in the United States legally. March 11 was U.S. border officials instructed to consider excluding Ukrainians from Section 42, the pandemic rule that has blocked many Latin American migrants from seeking asylum.

A small number unaccompanied Ukrainian children are also seeking entry at the San Ysidro crossing, according to a U.S. official and lawyers in Tijuana, but they are being transferred to state shelters that typically house Central American migrant children, as required by a 2008 anti-trafficking law.

Olya Krasnykh, one of the U.S. volunteers helping Ukrainians arriving in Tijuana, said the waiting list is designed to ensure that the treatment of Ukrainians is reasonably orderly, as U.S. border authorities limit the number of people who arrive in Tijuana. can be admitted to a few hundred a day.

But Krasnykh said the bulk of this work should be done by governments – not a loose team of volunteers. Mexican officials in Tijuana have agreed to provide temporary housing for Ukrainians, but Krasnykh said the temporary shelters, including a recreational fitness center, are quickly running out of space.

“The situation really needs to change because the numbers are staggering and we have capacity,” Krasnykh, a California resident, told CBS News. “Many of us have not slept at all. It just is not durable.”

The internal CBP statistics also show an increase in the number of Russians entering U.S. border detention, where the agency has reported treating 5,207 migrants from Russia since February 1st. Just over 2,000 Russians came into CBP custody in February, including 769 migrants along the Mexican border, according to the agency’s figures. .

Unlike the United States, Mexico does not have visa requirements for Ukrainian travelers. According to Ukrainian families and volunteers, most Ukrainians fly to Cancun or Mexico City from Europe and then board another flight to Tijuana.

Natalia Kozlov, 24, said she arrived in Tijuana on the night of April 6 with her husband Mihail, 23, and their 7-month-old baby after a two-day trip from Warsaw that included stops in Paris and Cancun.

The young couple said they had been living in Poland since last fall when they fled the conflict between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government in the eastern Donetsk region. But the couple said they had no family members in Poland and that it was not an option to return to Ukraine after the outbreak of war.

Natalia Kozlov, Mihail Kozlov and their 7-month-old baby are waiting to be treated along the US-Mexico border.

Lent by Olya Krasnykh

After being told that U.S. border officials allowed displaced Ukrainians to enter the country, Natalia and Mihail said they arranged the trip to Mexico with the help of Natalia’s family members who live in Colorado. They said they could not come directly to the United States because they do not have visas.

Natalia said the U.S. should establish an easier immigration process for Ukrainians with family members in the U.S. so desperate families do not have to take the trip to Mexico, which she noted has been difficult for her baby.

“It would be a great relief, especially for families with children,” Natalia said through an interpreter Friday. “If there was a more straightforward way to get to the United States, it would just relieve a lot of stress.”

But legal immigration routes for Ukrainians wishing to enter the United States are still scarce.

Visa applicants, for example, face long waiting times due to limited processing capacity at US consulates and a backlog of applications exacerbated by the pandemic. They may also not be able to prove eligibility for temporary visas as they require proof that applicants intend to return to their home country.

The refugee process, which allows those fleeing persecution to relocate to the United States, currently takes between 18 and 24 months to complete due to interviews, security checks and medical examinations. The United States has also said that Ukrainians must be in third countries “where they can not be protected” in order to qualify for resettlement.

In March, the United States resettled only 12 Ukrainian refugees, all of whom were probably in the resettlement pipeline before the Russian invasion, figures from the State Department show.

In an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor and editor-in-chief Norah O’Donnell last week, Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas said the United States “is exploring other avenues, so [Ukrainians] do not have to fly to another country and seek emergency assistance. “But he noted that” it is not a quick process “and that he understood why Ukrainians fly to Mexico.

“We see Ukrainians in desperation. We have seen the horrific images from Ukraine,” Mayorkas said, calling Russia’s invasion “inhuman.”

Meanwhile, in Tijuana, Natalia and her family had to interrupt their interview last Friday. Their number on the waiting list to show up at the US port of entry – 2,227 – had come up.

Asked how she would feel if she were allowed to enter the United States, Natalia replied in English, “Very, very happy.”

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