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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Russians seek political asylum in the United States

The anti-war protest from the Russian-speaking community in Los Angeles has perhaps never been so massive. The immigrants participating in the protest had recently lived in Russia and were not going to leave. But the winter of 2022, says Petersburg resident Zhanna Kalashnikova, changed her life, as did that of hundreds of thousands of other Russians who decided to leave.

“We were opponents of this government and the decisions it takes, we actively defended Ukraine, my husband is from Mariupol, I am from Saint Petersburg. And they were constantly condemned, insulted, ”explains Zhanna Kalashnikova.

The Russians scattered in all directions. Jeanne and her family flew to Mexico and, having reached the border with the United States, they applied for political asylum in America.

“Having the experience of arrests in Russia is scary there, there was also fear here. But when the officers met us, they were so friendly, smiling, supportive, one of them even joked, recalled the Russian words: hello, Matryoshka. I cried, they comforted me and said I was safe. There were 28 people in our cell, only two of them were girls from Guatemala, the rest were all ours,” Zhanna said. The family now lives in California.

The New York Times publishes data from the US Immigration Service, according to which from late February to November 2022, more than 32,000 Russians crossed the border from Mexico to the United States in search of political asylum. In November 2022 alone, around 6,000 Russians ended up in California in this way. For comparison: for the whole of 2020, there were about four hundred asylum seekers in the United States from Russia.

“A sudden jump occurred in the middle of summer, July-August. Everything about the day before the mobilization, which was announced on September 21, and immediately after the mobilization, it was a crazy jump, literally 300-400-500%. In my 22 years of practice, I have not seen so many people fleeing Russia and other Russian-speaking countries in the CIS, says Tatiana Edwards-Behar, an immigration lawyer in San Diego.

Artyom left Russia on September 21.

“I am a lieutenant in the army reserve, I could be called up, and I realized that it is not mine. I’m not a killer, I don’t want to kill people! says Artyom. After being stuck in a traffic jam on the Russian-Georgian border for several days, he left with his wife and grandchildren for Armenia, from there the family flew to Mexico via Egypt.

“Those who fly from the CIS countries, they see each other, exchange glances, no one announces, of course, why he is flying. I was very surprised when I saw a large number of Armenians in prison : Russians, Armenians, many from Kazakhstan,” Artyom recalls.Due to the fact that he crossed the border with young children, the family spent only one day at the reception center of the immigration.

In general, the path to America, as a rule, is not cheap, long and sometimes dangerous – due to the fact that drug cartels operate in the region. To get to the Tijuana border, Russians have to cross more than one country.

Immigration lawyer Tatiana Edwards-Behar runs a telegram channel, popular among asylum seekers, Better Call Tatyana, in which she explains how anti-war people can get asylum in America. All these months, Tatiana says, Russian asylum seekers ended up in the United States, either driving to the border by car, where they turned themselves in to US authorities and ended up in a migrant prison – c so, for example, Artyom happened. Or through humanitarian funds that have helped defenseless segments of the population to avoid prison: these are women with children, people with health problems and representatives of the LGBT community. The funds, in fact, took care of the paperwork and screening of potential asylum seekers, charged for their services – about two thousand five hundred dollars per person.

“If you, as a migrant or a family, met one of the criteria and could be considered a particularly vulnerable group, then the foundation could mislead you, the foundations have contracts with our immigration services. The funds began to push prices up, prices went up, it was a policy related to the interaction of supply and demand, ”explains the lawyer.

Thanks to one of the humanitarian foundations, teachers from Moscow, Anna and Alexei, left Mexico for the United States a few weeks ago.

“We didn’t just think about going there, we wanted to fight first. We started to keep an opposition blog, then we realized that it was useless,” says Anna Mashinskaya, a political asylum seeker.

Anna and Alexey say that all these months they have heard different stories of Russians trying to cross the border: someone was arrested, someone was turned away at the airport. There were also those who profited from the misfortune of others.

“We know people who paid 6-7 thousand dollars and crossed the border in a day or two,” explains Alexey Leshchenko.

In order to somehow resolve the situation at the border, in mid-January the US authorities announced the launch of the CBP One app, through which you can now register to cross the US border. But so many of them want to pursue their American dream that the system does not support it and “freezes”. And with it, thousands of people on the southern border of the United States.

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