Russians find asylum lifeline to US, but at a high price

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) — Phil Metzger promises to arrange entry into the United States for a Russian asylum seeker through special liaisons with U.S. border officials and people in Mexico who can guarantee safety on the trip. When seeking free asylum, the pastor of Calvary San Diego said his work “is not cheap.”

In an interview with the Russian-language YouTube channel, the computer access controller at the US Customs and Border Protection wrote to the US Customs and vague about the “opportunists” in Mexico who oversee the safety of customers after they fly there on tourist visas and while they wait to cross into Tijuana.

“I just know that there is a lot of power in that part that I just don’t control,” said the evangelical Christian pastor. “But I have one command. I. command that goes over. That’s how I deal. To keep those people safe, I have to deal with the more powerful (Mexicans).”

Asylum is supposed to be free even for those in need; many have also been unable to apply for protection under covid-19 restrictions that are set to expire on Wednesday.

Yet Metzger’s mission, described in a 25-minute interview last month at his church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, is a private money-generating venture that uses its government connections to bypass restrictions. Part of it is dark, watching hundreds of CBP vacations unfold. Immigration lawyers choose who gets in, though CBP has the final say.

When asked about the group’s extra money marking, the Department of Homeland Security said there is no fee related to the asylum restrictions and “will look into any allegation of abuse.”

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“DHS takes any allegations of fraud or abuse of our immigration systems very seriously,” he said in a written response to questions about the service.

The pastor did not respond to text, email and phone messages for more than a week, and his office was closed when a reporter went there on a recent Friday afternoon.


This story is part of an ongoing Associated Press series, “Migration Inc,” which investigates individuals and companies profiting from the movement of people fleeing violence and civil strife into countries.


Migrant rights have been denied to more than 2.5 million people seeking asylum since March 2020 in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under Trump-era restrictions called Title 42.

Exemptions are made for migrants in Mexico who are considered vulnerable — perhaps because of their gender identity or sexual orientation or the type of imminent violence — but some officials say CBP does not question the choices and selected migrants often do not face any unusual risk. The agency does not publicly identify its partners or how many slots are available to each, leaving migrants to guess who they are and which are best connected to US authorities.

In El Paso, Texas, CBP gives 70 openings each day, half to the government of Mexico’s Chihuahua state and the rest to attorneys and advocacy groups, said Nicolas Palazzo, a lawyer for the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which participates in the organization. He said that some of the inviolable agents with his organization were emigrating into slavery.

In Piedras Negras, Mexico, as opposed to from Eagle Pass, Texas, the state elects a government that reaches Title 42, according to a report last month by the University of Texas at Austin Strauss Center for International Security and Law. In Reynosa, near McAllen, Texas, a migrant takes shelter who passes through, while in Laredo, Texas, there are no exemptions, the report says.

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In San Diego, CBP takes out about 200 people every day, including 40 openings that are designated as Russian speakers working through the San Diego Calvary, said Enrique Lucero, the city of Tijuana’s director of migrant affairs, who regularly communicates with U.S. authorities.

Other openings in San Diego are the advocacy group Al Otro Lado, which operates an online registration list, and Edge of Angels, which relies on immigration officials to select who will pass, and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a refugee migration organization. .

CBP allows more Russians to enter the United States with 42 title exemptions, with about 3 in 4 coming through the California border crossing with Mexico. In October, 3,879 Ruthenians were exempted, more than triple the same period a year earlier. It welcomed 21,626 Russians in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, more than five times the previous year.

In a YouTube interview last month with Alex Moore, Metzger said his call center fields more than 1,000 inquiries a day. CBP tells him how many people can cross and “I control who crosses.”

“Here we think God is opening a door for us,” says Metzger, who grew up in Southern California but spent much of his adult life in Eastern Europe.

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Metzger is unsure who pays for greeting customers in Mexico and brings them to the border, saying he doesn’t know them.

According to a telegraph account called Most V USA, the cost for each adult will be paid in cash of 1,800 (of course US dollars) on Monday – through a “price reduction”. For the married couple paying cash, the cost was $3,500. Online payments were $300 less for singles and $500 less for couples. The children were free.

“You pay not for the transit, but for the consultation during the transit,” Most V USA says on its website. “We are using the only legal avenue available to our organization – to make an appointment with a CBP officer at the border.”

The price includes safe passage to the United States in groups from Tijuana to San Diego, with a bag containing water and occasional bars.

Metzger opened his large church to Ukrainian refugees after the Russian invasion this year, with volunteers working on Operation Smooth, which directed the use of a mobile app to dress church attendees. Ukrainians who flew to Tijuana were told to report to the San Diego border crossing to approach the numbers, a system organizers likened to waiting for a table at a restaurant.

Metzger touts the connection he developed with CBP at the time and warns of a fallout for scammers who use his Most V USA brand.

“Yes, it is not cheap. No, it is not easy, but make sure you are safe and you will enter the ranks,” he said.


Associated Press writer Jim Heintz contributed to Moscow.


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