A Ukrainian woman and her three kids who made their way to Tijuana, Mexico, to seek asylum in the U.S. amid war in their home country were waiting Thursday to cross the border into San Diego and complete the final leg of their long journey.
Sofiia and her children, ages 6, 12 and 14, left Ukraine a few days after Russia's invasion began. They went first to Moldova, then Romania, then flew to Mexico City, Mexico and eventually arrived at the border crossing in Tijuana, according to family attorney Blaine Bookey. Sofiia says she has loved ones in Los Angeles and the Bay area.
The family entered the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in San Diego for processing, the agency confirmed, after authorities blocked their path hours earlier, an act that triggered sharp criticism from Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
“They requested refuge in one of the ports of entry on our southern border, but were turned away because of Title 42,” Schumer said on a conference call with reporters, according to the Associated Press. “This is not who we are as a country. Continuing this Trump-era policy has defied common sense and common decency."
Title 42 refers to an order enacted under the Trump administration in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and allows for the immediate deportation of migrants from the U.S. The Biden White House has maintained the policy, though Democrats have been calling for its end to remove restrictions on asylum-seekers.
A Telemundo 20 crew in Tijuana captured Sofiia and her family being let through Thursday to the processing facility. She immediately hugged Bookey, who said it was sheer luck she was at the border when the family was being turned away.
Sofiia and her children hadn't emerged from the facility on U.S. soil as of 11 p.m. PT Thursday, but Bookey said CBP can hold them for up to 72 hours.
Telemundo 20 reporter Marinee Zavala interviewed Sofiia before she left Mexico.
When asked why she was seeking asylum in the U.S., Sofiia told Zavala, "Because I probably don’t have any other place to go."
"I have family and friends in the U.S.A. They’re ready to support me and actually, they asked me to leave Ukraine in this situation. In any other case, I wouldn’t leave, I’m sure, because I have more family and friends over there," she said.
Bookey, who works with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, described what the last few weeks have been like for Sofiia and her family.
"She said that we were like angels in her path. It’s been a very, very disorienting time for them, just for all the reasons: fleeing war, leaving behind family, not knowing if you’ll have the chance to go back to this place that you love and call home," Bookey explained.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will continue to admit people who are considered vulnerable on a case-by-case basis.