Ukrainians seeking refuge at the US border can be excluded from a Trump-era policy that forces agents to immediately turn immigrants back, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday.
Since former president Donald Trump invoked an obscure public health law known as Title 42 to contain the coronavirus, the US has been immediately expelling immigrants at the border, blocking them from accessing the asylum system or an immigration judge. Some immigrants are quickly expelled to Mexico; others are flown back to their home countries. The only people who are exempt from Title 42 are immigrant children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian.
Border Patrol agents were recently reminded that individual exemptions to Title 42 can be made on a case-by-case basis, Mayorkas said in a phone call with reporters. Exemptions include immigrants who US authorities believe will be tortured if sent back to their country or if they have an extreme vulnerability, such as a medical condition, he added.
"This was policy guidance that reminded [border officers] of those individualized determinations and their applicability to Ukrainian nationals as they apply to everyone else," Mayorkas said.
Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there have been reports of Ukrainians arriving at the US–Mexico border. In some cases, they are being allowed into the US to pursue asylum cases or other immigration relief. KGTV reported on the case of a Ukrainian mother of a 6-month-old baby separated at the border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Tijuana, Mexico, for a week.
The San Diego Union-Tribune also reported that a Ukrainian family who had been turned away at the border in Tijuana by CBP officers after requesting asylum was eventually allowed to seek refuge in the US.
Meanwhile, immigrants and asylum-seekers from Central America, Haiti, and other countries continue to be turned away at the border under Title 42. Human Rights First has tracked at least 9,886 reports of kidnapping, torture, rape, and other violent attacks on people blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 during the Biden administration.
The White House has faced criticism from immigrant advocates and progressives for its decision to continue using Title 42, with the exception of unaccompanied immigrant children, while defending it in court.
More than 1.6 million immigrants and asylum-seekers have been expelled under Title 42, according to data from CBP.