Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Russian Asylum Seeker Released From San Diego Detention Center, Awaiting Court Date

A Russian man is seeking asylum in the U.S. after being arrested in Russia for participating in anti-government protests

NBC Universal, Inc.

More Russians and Ukrainians have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months to seek asylum, according to numbers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Enforcement of the "Remain in Mexico'' program, which keeps asylum seekers in Mexico while they await their immigration court hearings across the border, is once again being enforced at the San Diego border. 

As a result, many international asylum-seekers are not allowed to cross into the United States.

The Trump-era policy officially termed "Migrant Protection Protocols'' was ended last summer by the Biden administration, but was reinstated following a federal judge's order that the program was improperly terminated. 

While it was lifted, some asylum seekers who could prove their lives were in serious danger were allowed to stay in the U.S. while waiting for their court dates. 

Prior to the policy’s reinstatement, one Russian man says he traveled to Tijuana and requested asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. 

The man chose to go by the name Dmitri and did not wish to show his face on camera for an interview with NBC 7. 

When asked why he was fleeing Russia, Dmitri replied, “Because of my political opinion.” He explained he was arrested in Russia after participating in several anti-government demonstrations. 

When asked if he feared for his life in Russia, Dmitri replied, "Of course.” 

After his release, Dmitri says he flew to Tijuana where he and four other individuals bought a used car and drove to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request asylum. 

After questioning, he was taken to a detention center in San Diego. He tells NBC 7 he stayed there for four months. He was released this week – he’ll now go to his sponsor while he waits for an official court date. 

In recent months, more than 6,400 Russians and 900 Ukrainians have arrived at the Southwestern border of the United States, according to CBP. 

“We’ve got Ukrainians being killed but also you’ve got a huge resistance in Russia right now,” explains Jacob Sapochnick, a San Diego-area immigration attorney. 

Sapochnick said he’s currently helping several clients, both Russian and Ukrainian, through the asylum-seeking process. 

“They have no options but to apply for asylum because their money is frozen, because they’re literally taking their bags and running," he said.

Sapochnick said individuals like Dmitri will have a higher chance of being granted asylum if they have evidence that links them to anti-government demonstrations or other proof that their lives are in danger.

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