HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — An estimated 5,000 Russians are waiting south of the Mexican border for their chance to cross and claim asylum in the United States, a humanitarian worker tells Border Report.
Alma Ruth, founder and director of the faith-based nonprofit Practice Mercy Foundation, says that in the Mexican town of Reynosa alone, there are about 300 Russians waiting to cross the Rio Grande into South Texas.
“It has slowly grown the amount of Russians that are coming to Mexico to request asylum due to the situation in the region,” Ruth said Wednesday at the foot of the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
She said most Russians who come to Mexico are fairly wealthy. They fly into northern border towns and have the financial means to rent apartments or Airbnbs.
But she says they need help with language and navigating the culture, adding that many Russians are having trouble operating the CBP One app that U.S. Customs and Border Protection now requires they use to schedule asylum interview appointments at U.S. ports of entry.
She says Russian families find each other south of the border through WhatsApp and help one another navigate the bustling border city and advise each other to find churches and grocery stores.
“They communicate with each other. They have WhatsApp groups, where they try to keep each other informed of things to do. And not everybody speaks English. So that makes our communication limited,” she said.
Her group ministers to the families by reading the Bible and talking and praying with them. The nonprofit also gives out toiletries and other essentials they need.
As Russia’s war with Ukraine recently entered its second year, Ruth says many Russians are fleeing to escape military conscription.
For the past two years, many Ukrainians have crossed the border from Mexico farther west, from Tijuana into San Diego. But Ruth says it is spreading among Russians the fact that many have been able to cross into the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas from Reynosa and Matamoros.
“They have heard that the Ukrainians were able to cross on the Tijuana on the San Diego border. So Russians are choosing the Matamoros, Brownsville the Reynosa/McAllen area to cross with the hopes to avoid the military draft that their country is facing right now,” Ruth said.
In January, Ruth and her nonprofit organization helped a Russian family that legally crossed from Reynosa after waiting in the border city for over 40 days. The family ended up staying with a McAllen church for a couple of weeks before heading to Austin.
Mikhail Manzurin, the 25-year-old father, told Border Report they are safely in Seattle, Washington. He says they have bought a car, rented an apartment and are being helped by other Russian families who also crossed into South Texas before them.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com