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Thousands of undocumented Russians attempt to cross the Mexico-US border as a new humanitarian crisis looms

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Living in the United States is a dream for millions across the world, but crossing the border without documentation is extremely perilous. Photo: Getty Images

The border in Tijuana has long been a precarious final stop for those looking to enter the United States without legal documentation.

During the first few months of 2021 alone, the U.S. border patrol reported nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants — a 21-year high — according to Pew Research. 

But now, along with a steady flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico, Central America, Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America, a new group of would-be migrants is attempting to cross the border by any means necessary.

The number of Russian citizens attempting to cross the Tijuana border into the United States in 2021 was just over 6,000, and both US and Mexican immigration officials say that this trend seems to be peaking upwards, and fast. 

“I no longer feel safe in Russia. I no longer want to contribute through my taxes to Putin’s military buildup, so I decided to take what money I had and get out with my young family,” said a Russian citizen in Tijuana who identified himself as Vadim when speaking to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

For Russian citizens looking to enter the United States, Mexico appears to be the best choice, as they do not require a visa to enter the country as tourists. 

But once in Mexico, most migrants find that getting into the US is not as easy as they had perhaps hoped.

Earlier: Haitian migrants set up camp outside immigration offices in Chetumal

Before resorting to even more drastic measures, most migrants report attempting to cross the border on humanitarian grounds. Despite citing the risks they may face in Russia and their desire to achieve the “American dream,” virtually all are rebuffed.

Faced with the reality of being unable to enter the US legally, migrants often resort to human traffickers who charge up to $US10,000 per person to smuggle across the border.

Others try their luck at crossing the border on their own, braving the desert, crossing the Rio Grande, and scaling large walls. 

The maximum amount of time foreign nationals are able to remain in Mexico on a tourist visa is 90 days. Once this time is up, their status in the country becomes irregular, making it more difficult for them to access certain services.

To make matters worse, after being unable to pay for lodging at hotels or hostels many migrants find themselves out on the streets or huddling together in impromptu camps for protection. 

Given growing instability in Russia, caused at least in part by international sanctions and the looming threat of war with Ukraine, it is likely that the steady stream of Russians choosing to leave their homeland will continue. 

That being said, the vast majority of Russians choosing to leave their country opt to emigrate to countries in eastern Europe with which they have closer cultural and linguistic ties.

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