Notes on Ukrainian War Refugees Reaching the U.S. Southern Border

By Todd Bensman on March 16, 2022

AUSTIN, Texas — It was inevitable that Ukrainian war refugees would find their way to the utterly besieged American southern border to claim asylum. But it is in the American interest to deny and deter Ukrainians from entering this way.

The first Ukrainians to generate any significant international publicity since the Russian invasion, a mother and three children who flew from Romania to Mexico City, crossed the San Ysidro port of entry on March 11 into southern California. They drew press attention because Customs and Border Patrol refused them entry in line with the Title 42 pandemic health rule, which requires many pushbacks into Mexico and denies access to the U.S. asylum system. After pro-illegal immigration advocates generated media outrage, the White House ordered them freed inside on humanitarian parole.

This noisily set the wrong policy that will now be heard throughout the three-million-strong Ukrainian refugee population and undoubtedly draw even more to the southern border and into an asylum system that helps neither Ukrainians nor the American national interest.

As one of Europe’s poorest countries, Ukraine was pretty much surviving on international community financial life support before the war, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book, so naturally its citizens have been crossing the southern border as economic migrants for years, usually in the low hundreds annually. Mexico only requires easily obtainable electronic visas for Ukrainians and Russians, so they just flew in for “vacation” before the war, often to Tijuana’s large international airport for the crossing into nearby San Diego.

But the numbers started rising with rumors of war. U.S. Border Patrol encountered more than 1,000 Ukrainians between October and the run-up to war in January (the total exceeded 1,300 when adding the newly released February numbers), compared to 680 for all of the prior year. It’s a sure bet the March numbers will turn out to be higher still.

All indications suggest a flood of Ukrainians is underway and, now that a hot war is actually on, threatens to gather into a tidal wave if even a relatively small percentage of the three million Ukrainian refugees hear that Americans are giving out humanitarian parole at the border and decide to fly into Mexico, too. In a March 4 story, Reuters reported that “would-be migrants from Ukraine and Russia are swapping tips on social media on how to make the journey to the U.S. southern border via Mexico to claim asylum.”

Two circumstances argue strongly for American deterrence and dissuasion.

The Fable That Ukrainian War Refugees Desperately Need American Sanctuary and Qualify for Asylum

Pro-illegal-immigration groups and their friendly media outlets are framing these cases as dire Ukrainian desperation for sanctuary under the U.S asylum system. But that narrative is a fable. While Americans find Ukrainian war refugees and their plight irresistibly sympathetic, none of them need sanctuary or asylum on American territory, beyond those who were already inside the United States when Russia invaded. The Biden administration granted 18 months of Temporary Protected Status to all Ukrainians who were already inside the United States as of March 1.

On March 2, the European Union granted the exceptional generosity of a three-year residency to all Ukrainian refugees to live and work in some of the world’s most secure and developed economies. The temporary protection directive is unprecedented in that it allows Ukrainians to bypass the usual asylum procedures and immediately grants them the right to work and access healthcare across the European Union’s 27 member nations. Furthermore, the UK offered a similar temporary residency deal with all the same bells and whistles plus a 350-pound monthly stipend to British families who take in Ukrainians.

In reaching for the American border, Ukrainians are hardly drowning people desperately grabbing for the sharp edge of even a sword to save themselves. So much so that they also are warding off a generous welcome from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stay in his country, well-cared-for.

"All of those who ask for refuge in our country will be received and protected and welcomed," he said during a March 2 press conference, citing what he calls the country’s history as a site of refuge. Furthermore, as war refugees with more great options than any other population of war refugees I can think of, Ukrainians are not eligible for American asylum, which is largely for victims of government persecution in their home countries.

Immigration judges who look at their cases will ask if they had an opportunity to seek asylum in many of the countries through which they passed to reach the U.S. border.

Former U.S. Immigration Judge D. Anthony Rogers, who sat on the bench for 18 years adjudicating asylum cases in Dallas, told me that judges consider whether asylum claimants had asylum already elsewhere or opportunities for asylum elsewhere.

“That is a negative factor that can be considered,” Rogers told me. “The question would be, ‘why didn’t you stay in Poland? Why didn’t you go to one of the EU countries?’ They can’t get here without going through the European Union. That’s where I’d go with that.”

“They have places to be safe. They don’t have a need to come here,” he said. “Why come here when you’ve already been granted safe residency in a number of European countries?

“And having a war going on in your country may cause you to be considered a refugee should you leave but still not necessarily form a basis for asylum”

Calling Out Pro-Illegal-Immigration Advocates for Exploiting Ukrainians

The claim by pro-illegal immigration advocates that Ukrainians showing up at the American border had only that option to escape Russian bombings of Ukrainian maternity hospitals is an exaggerated artifice that no thinking person should believe. Which gives rise to an obvious question: Why would these pro-illegal activists concoct such a silly narrative?

The answer is that they are cynically exploiting an opportunity to argue for their unrelated agenda to remove every remaining speed bump to border crossings. At the top of their list right now is a demand that the Biden administration eliminate Title 42, not at all coincidentally the very same rule they cited for its cruelty to the Ukrainian family in Tijuana. Title 42 is the last impediment to all other economic migrant nationalities hoping to abuse the American asylum system, with its enticing legal mechanism that frees any ineligible migrant who simply files a claim to live forever inside the United States even after they lose and abandon their claims.

Take Blaine Bookey, an attorney for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, who took on the case of the Ukrainian mother and three children initially returned to Mexico under Title 42.

“The fact that we’re using Covid as an excuse to keep out asylum seekers at this moment in time, it’s just becoming more and more absurd and untenable for the administration,” he complained to National Public Radio.

Prominent Democratic leaders are running with the false narrative.

"This is not who we are as a country," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a call with reporters about Title 42. "Continuing this Trump era policy has defied common sense and common decency. Now's the time to stop the madness."

Ukrainian Wave Would Further Damage Collapsing Border and Asylum Systems

Border management and asylum systems already are buckling under the greatest mass migration crisis in American history, with Biden administration policies having enticed easily 2.5 million people to attempt crossings since Inauguration Day, by far the most since the United States began keeping records in 1960. The same policies led to massive backlogs in the asylum system flooded with mainly economic migrants who do not qualify but who use it to gain access to the American interior to work illegally.

The time is exactly wrong for Biden policies that reward border crossings by Ukrainians who have many other great options for sanctuary between there and here. Immigration judges, asylum officers, Border Patrol agents, and facilities are overwhelmed.

But when the Biden administration rewards Ukrainian border-crossers with permanent resettlement, millions take notice as a chance to secure the storied American way of life. Instead, the Biden administration should take to heart the warm welcomes of EU governments and of Mexican President Obrador to Ukrainians, and help them to settle in those countries.

Topics: Asylum