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US Southern Border Policy Facing New Challenge with Arrival of Ukrainian and Russian Refugees

Customs and Border Patrol has been authorized to exempt Ukrainian asylum seekers from COVID-related public health advisory on a case-by-case basis

An increasing number of refugees from Ukraine and Russia is adding new complications to the already strained border U.S.-Mexico border.

With migrants from the war-torn region looking to cross the border into the U.S., the debate regarding a COVID-19 era policy has increased in recent weeks.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the conflict created a humanitarian crisis that warranted a revision in standing border policy.

“The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that the unjustified Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has created a humanitarian crisis,” the agency wrote in a March 11 memo to the Office of Field Operation. “CBP is authorized, consistent with the Title 42 Order, on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of the circumstances, including considerations of humanitarian interests, to except Ukrainian nationals at land border ports of entry from Title 42.”

“Non-citizens who are in possession of a valid Ukrainian passport or other valid Ukrainian identity document, and absent risk factors associated with national security or public safety, may be considered for exception from Title 42 under this guidance,” CBP added.

Title 42 is a public health advisory implemented under President Donald Trump during the global outbreak of COVID-19 that has been maintained by the Biden administration. 

The policy has been denounced by some Democrats in Congress as an anti-immigrant measure and defended by some House Republicans as a necessary tool in the fight against both the spread of COVID-19 and illegal immigration.

Title 42 was invoked by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield on May 20, 2020. When approved by the sitting president, the policy gives the Surgeon General “the power to prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate in order to avert such danger, and for such period of time as he may deem necessary for such purpose.”

Because asylum seekers must be on American soil to make a claim, some activists feel the policy is jeopardizing the safety of already vulnerable people and want the federal government to end Title 42.

Others have argued that, when properly enforced, Title 42 aids those seeking asylum by making migration along the southern border more manageable.

It is not compassionate to allow persons from countries with no legitimate claim to clog up the system by seeking asylum simply because economic prospects in their country of origin do not meet their liking,” wrote Brandon Judd in an opinion piece for Fox News

He added:

“The proper application of Title 42 allows the U.S. government to adjudicate asylum claims from individuals from Ukraine and other countries in a timely manner, thereby allowing relief without waiting in limbo for years. To end the lawful and rational use of Title 42 while COVID-19 is still a threat would be a tremendous mistake and will inevitably cause more chaos on the border and will only hurt vulnerable individuals like those from Ukraine.”

Ukrainian refugees are not the only migrants seeking access to the United States via the Mexico border as a result of the ongoing conflict.

CBP data indicates roughly eight times as many Russian migrants were encountered along the border in 2021 than in 2020 — 4,100 compared to fewer than 500, according to a report from The Washington Examiner.

Many Russian asylum seekers have flown to Tijuana because they cannot fly directly into the United States.

While Russians were still being admitted to the U.S. after the Kremlin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, AP News reported that the policy has been changed.

About three dozen would-be asylum seekers from Russia found themselves blocked from entering the U.S. on [March 18] while a group of Ukrainians flashed passports and were escorted across the border,” AP reported.

The outlet noted that “Ukrainians who can reach U.S. soil are virtually guaranteed a shot at asylum.” 

“Only four of the 1,553 who entered in the September-February period were barred under the public health order that lets the U.S. expel migrants without a chance at humanitarian protection,” AP wrote.

For the time being, the fate of Title 42 remains unclear. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a March 21 press briefing that President Joe Biden may consider ending the policy at some point in April.

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