US authorities treated 9,926 undocumented Ukrainians in past 2 months, data shows

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Nearly 10,000 undocumented Ukrainians have been processed by US border officials in the past two months as thousands of refugees have been displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. has traveled in Mexico hoping to seek refuge in the United States, according to internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data obtained by CBS News.

Between Feb. 1 and April 6, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported encountering 9,926 Ukrainians who lacked the legal documents needed to enter the country, according to unpublished statistics from the U.S. agency. On April 6 alone, 767 Ukrainian migrants were processed by CBP.

The vast majority of Ukrainians processed by US authorities have sought to enter official ports of entry, rather than 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 US police custody in recent weeks. In February, CBP officials reported encountering 1,147 undocumented Ukrainians, including 272 migrants along the Mexican border, according to state agency data. The invasion of Russia started on February 24.

Between February 1 and April 6, CBP also reported 41,074 “legal entries” of Ukrainians who had permission to enter the United States, which may include visas that the United States grants to short-term travelers, including tourists, or immigrants authorized to live in the United States permanently. , show the agency’s internal data.

Russia’s invasion sparked the biggest displacement crisis since World War II, prompting 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

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Refugees fleeing war in Ukraine wait for their claims to be processed along the border with the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, April 9, 2022.

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images


On March 24, President Biden promised to receive up to 100,000 war-displaced Ukrainians indefinitely. But the administration has yet to announce any concrete steps to realize the ambitious plan and expedite a visa and refugee status process that typically takes months and years.

Faced with limited direct routes to reach the United States, thousands of Ukrainians have embarked on a multi-day trek to Mexico that usually involves several flights to reach the southern border of the United States, where authorities have been urged to consider admitting Ukrainians, despite entering pandemic era restrictions for other immigrants.

It is unclear how many of the 9,926 Ukrainians processed by US border officials were allowed to enter the country. CBP did not respond to requests for comment on the data and to provide additional statistics.

The unprecedented wave of Ukrainians traveling to Mexico hoping to enter the United States is a symptom of a dysfunctional and lagging immigration system that is not designed to respond to refugee crises in the midst of boom, especially after numerous Trump-era restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, experts mentioned.

“The fact that Ukrainians travel to Mexico and try their luck at the US-Mexico border as the fastest option shows how slow and clogged our immigration system is,” said Julia Gelatt, analyst for the nonpartisan migration policy institute. . “We don’t really have a rapid response part of our immigration system that can create pathways for people in an emergency situation.”

This flawed immigration system is on full display in Tijuana, Mexico, where a group of Church Slavonic volunteers in the United States created an ad hoc process to put Ukrainians on a list so they could wait their turn to Report to U.S. authorities at the San Ysidro Border Crossing in Southern California.

Once their numbers are reached, Ukrainian families and adults are generally allowed to enter the United States after certain processing and are granted one year of humanitarian parole, which allows them to work and live legally in the United States. . On March 11, US customs officers were directed consider exempting Ukrainians from Title 42, the pandemic-era rule that has prevented many Latin American migrants from seeking asylum.

Fewer unaccompanied people Ukrainian children are also seeking entry at the San Ysidro crossing, according to a US official and lawyers in Tijuana, but are being moved to government shelters that typically house migrant children from Central America, as required by an anti-trafficking law of 2008.

Olya Krasnykh, one of the US volunteers helping Ukrainians arriving in Tijuana, said the waiting list is designed to ensure that the processing of Ukrainians is somewhat orderly, as US border officials limit the number of people who can be admitted to a few hundred a day.

But Krasnykh said most of this work should be done by governments – not a loose team of volunteers. Mexican officials in Tijuana agreed to provide temporary housing for the Ukrainians, but Krasnykh said the makeshift shelters, including the gym at a recreation center, were quickly running out of space.

“The situation really needs to change because the numbers are staggering and we’re at full capacity,” Krasnykh, a California resident, told CBS News. “A lot of us haven’t slept at all. It’s just not sustainable.”

Internal CBP statistics also show an increase in the number of Russians entering custody at the US border, with the agency reporting that it processed 5,207 migrants from Russia since February 1. .

Unlike the United States, Mexico does not require a visa for Ukrainian travelers. According to Ukrainian families and volunteers, most Ukrainians travel to Cancún or Mexico City from Europe and then board a second flight to Tijuana.

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

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

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

Courtesy of Olia Krasnykh


After learning that US border officials were allowing 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 couldn’t come directly to the United States because they didn’t have a visa.

Natalia said the United States should establish a simpler immigration process for Ukrainians with family members in the United States so that desperate families don’t have to make the trip to Mexico, which, she noted, was hard on her baby.

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

But legal immigration avenues for Ukrainians seeking to enter the United States rapidly remain scarce.

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

The asylum process, which allows people fleeing persecution to settle in the United States, currently takes between 18 and 24 months due to interviews, security checks and medical examinations. The United States also said Ukrainians must be in third countries “where they cannot be protected” to be eligible for resettlement.

In March, the United States resettled only 12 Ukrainian refugees, all of whom were likely in resettlement before the Russian invasion, according to State Department figures.

In an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor and editor Norah O’Donnell last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the United States was “exploring other ways for [Ukrainians] don’t need to fly to another country and ask for help. But he noted that “it’s not a quick process” and that he understands why Ukrainians are flying to Mexico.

“We see desperate Ukrainians. We have seen the horrific images of Ukraine,” Mayorkas said, calling the Russian invasion “inhumane”.

Meanwhile, in Tijuana, Natalia and her family had to cut their interview short on Friday. Their number on the waiting list to report to the US port of entry – 2,227 – had come.

When asked how she would feel if she was allowed to enter the United States, Natalia replied in English: “Very, very happy.”

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