In a secret agreement with Mexico, the United States admitted Russian citizens who fled after their nation invaded Ukraine last month. The group of 35 Russians was camped out at the U.S.-Mexico border for a week before officials quietly brought them into the U.S. through a border checkpoint last week that has been closed for months.
According to an exclusive VICE World News report on Monday, which cited three sources including a Mexican federal official, on the night of March 20, under the cover of darkness, Mexican immigration officers handed the Russian asylum seekers over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Prior to entering the U.S., a Russian-speaking man who claimed to be an American diplomat offered the group of Russians a way into the U.S. – all they had to do was break up the encampment on the pedestrian crossing between Tijuana and San Diego.
The deal – which bypassed current policy that allows border officials to expel or deny asylum seekers entry – was managed by the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana in conjunction with both federal and local Mexican officials.
One anti-war protester and math teacher from Moscow said she was at the encampment for several days.
“It’s like Russian roulette,” she told VICE World News. “It’s completely unpredictable. You don’t know the steps along the way. You approach the border without knowing what is going to happen. You reach the border, but you don’t know if the immigration officer will let you through. Then, when you cross, you are detained, but you don’t know for how long or why.”
Mikhail Shliachkov of Moscow told VICE that he escaped Russia and arrived in Mexico in mid-March.
“I got here on Monday [March 14], and Mexican authorities did their best to help us, offering warm clothes, food, water, hot tea, and power banks,” he said. “By Tuesday, they started asking us to go to a shelter. But we don’t want to leave the street because we are afraid. Now, they ask us every day to go somewhere else.”
In a statement to the outlet, the State Department did not specifically address the secret agreement to admit Russians, but noted that the U.S. and Mexico “cooperate closely on a wide range of issues, including migration” and the two nation’s relationship facilitates “dialogue to address challenges that impact both of our countries.”
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson added that Title 42 is still operational, but the department is granting “exceptions to particularly vulnerable individuals of all nationalities for humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis.”