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Customs and Border Protection officials are now processing Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country at the San Diego-Tijuana border through a pedestrian crossing that remains closed to the general public.

The move, according to volunteers helping the Ukrainians and the Tijuana mayor’s office, is to speed up how many Ukrainians border officials can process in a day. PedWest, the pedestrian crossing at the western end of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, has been closed to general traffic for the past two years.

At around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, a busload of Ukrainians arrived at El Chaparral plaza on the south side of the crossing. That is where a camp of hundreds of mostly Central American and Mexican asylum seekers were camped for months, waiting for the Biden administration to open processing for refugee screenings. Mexican authorities bulldozed the camp in February, and the Biden administration has said that asylum processing won’t resume until May 23, with the exception of the Ukrainians.

Ukrainians had been camping at a bus stop near the eastern entrance to the port of entry since last week. The city of Tijuana then opened a sports complex known as Benito Juárez in Zona Norte, the same sports complex where a caravan of Central Americans stayed in November 2018. While the Central Americans were mostly housed in tents in the sports fields at the complex, the Ukrainians are generally sleeping on mats inside a building.

Enrique Lucero, director of migrant services for the city of Tijuana, said that the change would allow CBP to process more than 550 people instead of roughly 100 people per day.

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CBP did not respond to a request for comment.

According to multiple volunteers, the people helping the Ukrainians have been instructed to bring 50 people every two hours during the day to the plaza. And at night, according to San Diegan and volunteer Vlad Fedoryshyn, they will bring only 20 people every two hours.

Volunteers are registering Ukrainains when they arrive at the Tijuana airport, Fedoryshyn said. They are given QR codes with numbers showing their place in the line to get into the United States. Most then go to Benito Juárez, unless they want to go to a hotel instead.

Fedoryshyn said he hopes the change will help manage the number of people arriving.

“Every day people are coming, every night 300 people are coming,” he said. “If they are going to process a little bit more than 500 people every day, it would be perfect for us volunteers.”

The PedWest pedestrian crossing was used at the beginning of the Biden administration in the wind-down of the “Remain in Mexico” program that required asylum seekers to wait south of the border while their immigration cases processed in the United States. Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit that runs the San Diego Rapid Response Network Migrant Shelter, was heavily involved in that processing and transferred most of the asylum seekers who entered the United States at that time to its shelter.

A spokesperson for the nonprofit said that it has not been included in conversations with the federal government about the Ukrainians.

The PedWest crossing is also being used now that Remain in Mexico is back in effect, for asylum seekers to cross for their court hearings.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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