SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Sofia left Ukraine with her three children not long after Russian forces invaded her country late last month.
Their sudden departure took them to Moldova, Romania, Germany and Mexico City, and ultimately the border city of Tijuana.
On Monday, they found themselves stranded at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
They tried to cross the border twice — once on foot and once by car. Both times, though, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers turned them away.
Reduced to tears, Sofia huddled with her three children, ages 6, 12 and 14, on the Mexican side of the border crossing.
As luck would have it, Blaine Bookey walked by and offered to help.
Bookey, the legal director for the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings in San Francisco, gave Sofia advice and directed her to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana.
On Thursday, Sofia was ready for another attempt at crossing into the U.S., this time with the proper paperwork and other documents in hand.
“I probably don’t have any other place to go,” said Sofia as she got ready to approach the initial checkpoint with CBP officers. “I have family and friends in the U.S.A. and they’re ready to support me and they ask me to leave Ukraine because of the situation.”
Sofia told Border Report she left her family behind, including her mother, back in Ukraine.
“I’m worried about my family,” she said.
But for Sofia, there was no turning back as CBP officers waved her through.
Typically, migrants have to clear a COVID-19 quarantine period before they are released to family or sponsors north of the border.
After some processing inside the San Ysidro Port of Entry, she was allowed into the U.S. although she and her children remained in U.S. custody at an undisclosed CBP facility overnight. On Friday afternoon, CBP released the family to some relatives from Los Angeles.
Although the U.S. is granting temporary protective status to Ukrainians who are already in the United States, it doesn’t necessarily apply to new arrivals.
A CBP spokesperson told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Title 42 remains in effect and that the Department of Homeland Security can exempt “particularly vulnerable individuals” from expulsion on a case-by-case basis.
While Sofia and her family were able to gain access north of the border, a couple from Ukraine was turned away reportedly because the woman did not have her passport and other paperwork.