Ukrainian refugees have found their way to the United States through Mexico

TIHUANA, Mexico – Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arriving daily have a message for family and friends in Europe that the fastest way to settle in the United States is to book a flight to Mexico.

A loose volunteer coalition, mostly from Slavic churches in the western United States, sends hundreds of refugees daily from the airport in the Mexican border town of Tijuana to hotels, churches and shelters where they wait two to four days until U.S. officials recognize their conditional admission. release. In less than two weeks, volunteers worked with U.S. and Mexican officials to build an extremely efficient and expanding network to provide food, security, transportation, and housing.

Volunteers wearing blue and yellow badges representing the Ukrainian flag but not having a name or group leader created a waiting list in notebooks and later switched to a mobile app commonly used to track church attendance. Ukrainians are ordered to appear at the US border crossing as their numbers approach, a system that organizers compare to waiting for a table in a restaurant.

“We feel so happy, so happy,” said Tatiana Bondarenko, who has traveled to Moldova, Romania, Austria and Mexico before arriving in San Diego on Tuesday with her husband and children aged 8, 12 and 15. Her final destination was Sacramento, California, to live with her mother, whom she had not seen in 15 years.

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arrive in Tijuana every day, waiting two or four days for US officials to release them on parole.
AP

Another Ukrainian family posed nearby for photos under the sign of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of San Diego, San Isidro, the busiest crossing between the United States and Mexico. Volunteers under a blue canopy offered snacks while the refugees waited for their family to pick them up, or buses that would take them to a nearby church.

At Tijuana Airport, weary travelers arriving in Mexico as tourists to Mexico City or Cancun are directed to a makeshift hall in a terminal with a black marker that reads, “Only for Ukrainian refugees.” This is the only place to register for entry into the United States

According to volunteers who manage the waiting list, this week about 200-300 Ukrainians were taken daily to the San Isidro crossing, hundreds more arrived in Tijuana. 973 families or single adults were expected on Tuesday.

Volunteer Zank Bennett of the United States wears the Ukrainian flag in his hat as he helps Ukrainians arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, looking for a way to apply for asylum in the United States.
Volunteer Zank Bennett of the United States wears the Ukrainian flag in his hat as he helps Ukrainians arriving in Tijuana, Mexico, looking for a way to apply for asylum in the United States.
AP

U.S. officials told volunteers they are trying to take in about 550 Ukrainians daily when processing moves to the nearest crossing, which is temporarily closed to visitors. The CBP did not provide figures in response to questions about operations and plans, saying only that it had expanded facilities in San Diego to deal with humanitarian affairs.

“We realized we had a problem that the government wasn’t going to solve, so we solved it,” said Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, where about 75 members host Ukrainian families and more. 100 refugees sleep on air mattresses and benches.

Mexican volunteer Felix Lara prepares tacos for Ukrainian refugees in a makeshift camp near the Tijuana border.
Mexican volunteer Felix Lara prepares tacos for Ukrainian refugees in a makeshift camp near the Tijuana border.
AP

Metzger, whose pastoral work has led him to Ukraine and Hungary, calls the operation “duct tape and glue,” but refugees prefer it to overcrowded European countries with millions of Ukrainians.

The Biden administration has said it will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians, but Mexico is the only route that produces large numbers. Meetings at US consulates in Europe are few, and the resettlement of refugees takes time.

The administration has set a resettlement limit of 125,000 for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, but by March 31 had accepted only 8,758, including 704 Ukrainians. In the previous year, he limited the resettlement of refugees to 62,500, but accepted only 11,411, including 803 Ukrainians.

The administration paroled more than 76,000 Afghans through U.S. airports in response to the withdrawal of U.S. troops last year, but nothing of the sort is happening to Ukrainians.

Ukrainian refugees leave the gymnasium on the way to cross the US border.
Ukrainian refugees leave the gymnasium on the way to cross the US border.
AP

Oksana Dugnik, 36, was hesitant to leave her home in Bucha, but agreed to her husband’s wish before Russian troops stormed the city and left the streets littered with corpses. The couple was concerned about the violence in Mexico with three young children, but the active presence of volunteers in Tijuana reassured them, and a friend from Ohio agreed to accept them.

“So far so good,” Dugnik said a day after arriving at the Tijuana Gymnasium, which the city authorities opened for about 400 Ukrainians to sleep on the basketball court. “We have food. We have a place to stay. We hope that everything will be fine. “

Warned by text messages or social networks, Ukrainians are called to a grassy hill and a bus port near the border crossing a few hours before their numbers are called. City officials have opened a bus shelter to protect Ukrainians from torrential rain.

Ukrainian refugees are following a volunteer closer to the port of entry into San Isidro as they prepare to cross the border.
Ukrainian refugees are following a volunteer closer to the port of entry into San Isidro as they prepare to cross the border.
AP

A student of Kiev College Angelina Nikita admitted nerves when her number was approaching. After the invasion, she fled to Warsaw, but decided to take a risk in the United States because she wanted to settle with an acquaintance of the pastor in Kalispele, Montana.

“I think we’ll be fine,” she said, waiting for hundreds of Ukrainians to be escorted from the camp to their final stop in Mexico, a small area with dozens of folding chairs within the reach of US officials. Some refuse to drink at the final stop, fearing they will have to go to the bathroom and miss their turn.

The lull ends when CBP officers approach, “We need a family.” “Give me three more.” “Cold, we need lonely.” Orderly movement is provided by a volunteer.

Ukrainian refugees are talking to a U.S. customs and border guard as they prepare to cross the border.  This week, about 200-300 Ukrainians were received daily at the San Isidro crossing.
Ukrainian refugees are talking to a U.S. customs and border guard as they prepare to cross the border. This week, about 200-300 Ukrainians were received daily at the San Isidro crossing.
AP

The arrival of Ukrainians comes at a time when the Biden administration is preparing for a much larger number, when May 23 will end restrictions on asylum for all nationalities related to the pandemic. Since March 2020, the United States has used its powers under Section 42, designated under the Health Care Act of 1944, to suspend rights. seek asylum in accordance with US law and an international treaty.

Metzger, pastor of Chula Vista, said his church could not continue to work 24 hours a day providing assistance to refugees, and suspected that U.S. authorities would not accept what the volunteers did.

“If you do something smooth, everyone will come,” he said. “We do it so easily. In the end, I’m sure they’ll say, “No, we’re done.”

Leave a Comment