A family from Ukraine attempted to enter the United States from Tijuana to seek asylum. The 34-year-old mother, who asked to be identified as Sofia, and her 14, 12, and 6-year-old children were summarily turned away on Wednesday by Customs and Border Protection officials citing Title 42 Coronavirus protections as justification.
A Wednesday report from the San Diego Tribune described the case of Sofia and her three children as they traveled from Ukraine and ultimately to Mexico. Sofia learned upon attempting to enter the United States that Title 42, a CDC emergency order to stop the spread of COVID-19, prevented her entry.
The Trump era emergency order that continues under the Biden administration allows CBP to deny entry of persons or items to stop the spread of COVID-19. Although the Department of Homeland Security has recently granted Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians, the order only applies to nationals already in the United States.
Sofia and her three children left Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion on February 24, traveling to Romania by car. Sofia and the family then flew through Frankfurt, Germany, to Mexico City. Sofia says her only family outside Ukraine resides in California.
Sofia told the Tribune, “I left a little bit before it got too tough, but now my family can’t even leave their houses. It was my luck I listened to my friends.” She added, “I was afraid for my kids. That’s why I left.” For now, Sofia has left the San Ysidro Port of Entry and returned to a hotel in Tijuana in hopes that efforts by her family to secure entry will prove successful.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled since the Russian invasion. The vast majority, some 1.4 million, sought refuge in Poland. Many are in Romania, Hungary, and other European countries. Nearly 100,000 fled to Russia.
Sofia and her family are not alone as they wait in Mexico. According to Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR, the number of asylum and refugee applications more than doubled from 2020-2021. More than 131,000 applications overall were received in 2021.
Most applicants for refuge in Mexico are seeking travel documents necessary to ultimately reach the United States-Mexico Border. Most migrants, however, will bypass that system by choosing to travel through Mexico illegally. Once at the southern border, migrants opt to enter the United States between land ports and request asylum from apprehending Border Patrol agents on American soil.
Although an exception can be made by CBP to accept Sofia’s application at the port, the agency faces the potential for confusion regarding how the exception is applied. Rumors of a change in enforcement posture previously resulted in chaos in recent months. In January, more than 200 migrants rushed into one port of entry in Texas after hearing rumors that asylum applications would be accepted. The rush resulted in the closure of the port until the group of mostly Central Americans could be dispersed and returned to Mexico.
A response to a request for information from CBP regarding Sofia’s case has not been received as of press time.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.