TIJUANA, Mexico (CN) — Nearly 600 Ukrainian citizens arrived at the San Ysidro border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on Thursday, joining the ranks of thousands of others seeking to cross into the United States.
While the border policy known as Title 42 prevents them from applying for asylum, Ukrainian citizens have been allowed to enter the United States by means of a temporary protection mechanism called humanitarian parole. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the policy would officially come to an end on May 23.
U.S. and Mexican authorities are coordinating with the help of dozens of Ukrainian-speaking volunteers to organize groups of around 20 Ukrainian citizens to cross at a time. A Tijuana police officer helping coordinate said they are processing two to three groups per hour.
Many of those seeking to enter the United States are staying in hotels in Tijuana while they wait for their chance to cross, but hundreds gathered at a bus stop near the border gate on Thursday, filling sidewalks and an adjacent green space with tents and sleeping bags. Many were families of men, women and children.
Enrique Lucero, director of migrant services for the Tijuana municipal government, said that the city had offered to house the parole seekers in temporary shelters, but that the offer was broadly declined.
“All of them are going to cross, so they don’t want to be put into shelters,” said Lucero.
But while they are allowed to cross the border within hours or days of arriving in Tijuana, asylum seekers from Central America, Mexico, Haiti and other countries have been waiting for months or even years for their chance to do so as a result of Title 42. Foreign nationals have the right to request asylum under U.S. immigration law.
These migrants understand that Ukrainians have a legitimate claim to protection in the United States, but they can’t help but feel discriminated against by U.S. border policy.
“Folks who have been waiting for months or years feel the unfairness of the situation acutely,” said Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director of the human rights organization Al Otro Lado (On the Other Side).
The migrants in Tijuana shelters who spoke to Courthouse News did not express anger or resentment toward those fleeing Russia’s war in Ukraine, but many did decry the U.S. immigration system as racially discriminatory.
“If they’re letting Ukrainians cross, they should let us cross, too,” said Reina Ávila López, 32, who has been waiting over three months in the Ágape migrant shelter with her 5-year-old daughter Alejandra.
They share this crowded space with 500 other migrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America. The three buildings on the 19,000-square-foot property are all full, and many sleep in tents set up in the courtyard.
“They are fleeing just like us, even though they’re fleeing war. We’re fleeing a gang war. The threat to our lives is the same,” said Ávila.
Viridiana Morales, a single mother of two from the Mexican state of Michoacán has been in the shelter for four months with her mother and daughters.
“I feel relieved for the Ukrainians because they’re going through a really difficult situation in their country. But us Mexicans also need the same support they’re receiving,” said Morales, 32.
She described a situation in her home state in which “you can’t even report a crime because the criminal groups work in collusion with the police. You know that if you report a crime, you won’t last very long.”