For almost two weeks families from both Russia and Ukraine have been trying to seek asylum at the US/Mexico border near San Diego. I had been told Russian families were being denied entry into the San Ysidro Port of Entry and most had been camping out near the pedestrian gate.
I arrived Monday morning at the San Ysidro gate in Tijuana and saw the usual line of people, mostly from Mexico, waiting to enter the pedestrian entrance to the United States. This is the usual scene as people with dual citizenship, workers, tourists, friends, and family, cross the border every day.
When I got closer to the pedestrian gate I couldn’t find any Russian or Ukrainian families, in fact, I found no one that appeared to be from an Eastern European country. My photographer and I roamed around the area looking for any clues of Russians or Ukrainians waiting in line, we were even checking cars for a Ukrainian or Russian flag. We had been told by local news media that some refugees were buying used cars in Mexico, crossing the border through the vehicle gate then abandoning or reselling the car in the United States.
I finally spoke to local law enforcement and military. Apparently, Mexican Immigration Officials finally told the families to vacate the area on Saturday. They were relocated to an undisclosed hotel while they plead their case with US Customs Officials.
We walked to another pedestrian gate about 15 minutes from the San Ysidro Port of Entry. When we arrived at the Chaparral Gate we discovered it was closed and completely empty, except the few military guards at the entrances and exits. This alternate entrance to the U-S is where we came a few years ago to interview members of one of the migrant caravans from Central America.
We went back to the San Ysidro gate and as we approached the pedestrian entrance to the United States I noticed a young couple with a baby stroller in the corner. A baby bag in the stroller had a series of bright, colorful Russian dolls imprinted on the outside. I took a chance and approached. The woman used very broken English but was willing to speak with me. Her name is Nadya. Her husband is Artum, and their baby son is Samuel. Nadya told me they came from a town outside of Moscow and traveled by plane to Barcelona, then Dubai, then Mexico City, and finally, Tijuana.
Nadya explains she and her family fear for their safety and since they have family in the U-S they thought it was a good time to enter the country by seeking asylum. Nadya says they want a better life for their son, so this was the best time to try.
The only way I could to really communicate effectively with Nadya was using Google translate. Artum was not comfortable speaking English. I have used Google translate before and it really comes in handy in situations like this. You can hear how it was used in one of my radio features filed from the scene.
Nadya said when they first arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry they claimed asylum but were denied entry. She says there was no explanation offered but U-S Customs officials told her to come back again for another chance to enter. Immigration and Customs Officials in San Diego referred my inquiries to Washington DC. They responded, but only with charts and graphs, policy text, but no specific answers to my questions.
It's not clear how many Russian people will be allowed to seek asylum into the United States and those already allowed entry, including Ukrainians, were given a 1-year stay in the country. At that time, they will have to plead their case once again to an immigration official.
My photographer and I said goodbye to Nadya, and her family then reentered the U-S. This is a parting shot and one that sent chills up our spines. The view through the concertina wire back into Mexico gave the day a whole new perspective.