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Ukrainians at the U.S.-Mexico Border: Seeking Admission at U.S. Ports of Entry by Nationality

Published May 17, 2022

Last month in April a total of 20,994 Ukrainians seeking safety from the war ravaging their homeland turned up at U.S. ports of entry and were stopped at the border as “inadmissibles.” [1] Arrivals from Ukraine averaged 700 per day during April. This includes individuals allowed into the country on humanitarian parole. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports these 700 individuals per day were out of “nearly a half of a million people who arrive [daily] at 328 U.S. ports of entry by air, land and sea.”

Sixty percent of the Ukrainian adults were females, forty percent were males [2]. Children were evenly divided between males and females. While these refugees seeking entry into the United States had a higher proportion of females, the proportion of males was surprising high – much higher than has been reported among Ukrainian refugees heading to European countries since Ukraine banned all male citizens ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country shortly after the Russian invasion began.

About one-third (32%) of these Ukrainians were children ages 0-17. Five (5) percent were over 60, and, the remaining 63 percent were between the ages of 18 and 60. The majority (60%) arrived in family groups with children.[3] Just over 100 children (105) arrived as unaccompanied minors. The remainder arrived as single adults or as couples without children.

This detailed portrait is based on person-by-person government records covering April 2022 detailing how port authorities ultimately decided whether to admit or expel individuals, and compares Ukrainians versus non-Ukrainians who were stopped as “inadmissible” when arriving via land, sea or air. These detailed records were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, and analyzed by TRAC.

Where Did Ukrainians Arrive?

Most Ukrainian refugees sought entry into the United States via Mexico. And along the Mexican border, most sought entry at San Diego. Indeed, some 19,016 out of 20,994 Ukrainians, or over 90 percent, sought entry through ports of entry under the San Diego CBP port authority. See Figure 1.

A much smaller number—only 1,337—sought entry in ports administered by Texas CBP port authorities in Laredo, Houston, and El Paso. Buffalo, New York and Seattle, Washington were the port authorities along the northern border that had the largest number of Ukrainian arrivals, but arrivals were relatively few. In April, just 176 Ukrainians sought entry into the U.S. through Buffalo entry ports, and 102 through ports under the Seattle CBP field office. See Table 1.

Figure 1. Ukrainians Stopped as Inadmissible by CBP Port Authority Field Offices, April 2022
Table 1. Ukrainians Stopped as Inadmissible by CBP Authority Field Offices, April 2022
Port of Entry Field Office Total Inadmissibles Number Percent
Ukraine All Other Ukraine All Other
Atlanta 891 74 817 0.4% 2.5%
Baltimore 1,106 41 1,065 0.2% 3.2%
Boston 1,638 14 1,624 0.1% 4.9%
Buffalo 3,478 176 3,302 0.8% 9.9%
Chicago 486 15 471 0.1% 1.4%
Detroit 637 14 623 0.1% 1.9%
El Paso 1,285 256 1,029 1.2% 3.1%
Houston 5,671 333 5,338 1.6% 16.1%
Laredo 5,925 748 5,177 3.6% 15.6%
Los Angeles 1,467 10 1,457 0.0% 4.4%
Miami 1,370 31 1,339 0.1% 4.0%
New Orleans 1,150 62 1,088 0.3% 3.3%
New York 794 23 771 0.1% 2.3%
Portland 112 2 110 0.0% 0.3%
San Diego 22,409 19,016 3,393 90.6% 10.2%
San Francisco 964 20 944 0.1% 2.8%
San Juan 628 9 619 0.0% 1.9%
Seattle 2,292 102 2,190 0.5% 6.6%
Tampa 431 9 422 0.0% 1.3%
Tucson 703 39 664 0.2% 2.0%
Preclearance 775 - 775 0.0% 2.3%
Total 54,212 20,994 33,218 100.0% 100.0%

Ukrainians Dominate Those Without Necessary Entry Papers to the U.S.

This surge of Ukrainians last month made up nearly four out of every ten individuals (39%) CBP port authorities flagged as inadmissible and stopped at the border. See Figure 2.

After Ukraine, the other nationalities in the top five were Mexico (9%), Philippines (8%), Canada (8%) and India (6%). Russia was in sixth place with five percent. No other country reached as high as five percent. Guatemala and El Salvador each made up only one percent of inadmissibles. China and Honduras, and Haiti were intermediate with three, three, and two percent, respectively. See Table 2.

Fleeing their war-torn country, many Ukrainians not surprisingly did not have the necessary official documents which might authorize their entry into the U.S. The following section details what happened to those lacking these necessary papers and compares their fate with those who arrived at U.S. ports of entry from other countries.

Figure 2. Inadmissible When Seeking To Enter U.S. at Official Ports of Entry, April 2022
Table 2. Stopped as Inadmissible by CBP Port Officials by Citizenship, April 2022
Citizenship Number
Ukraine 20,994
Mexico 4,698
Philippines 4,315
Canada 4,167
India 3,149
Russia 2,613
China (Mainland) 1,858
Honduras 1,619
Haiti 1,341
El Salvador 647
Guatemala 548
Colombia 470
Brazil 466
Myanmar (Burma) 417
Chile 339
South Korea 327
Indonesia 319
France 317
Turkey 314
United Kingdom 242
Peru 233
Dominican Republic 230
Armenia 222
Jamaica 206
Vietnam 195
Spain 184
Iran 175
Italy 168
Venezuela 163
Nigeria 146
Belarus 144
Sri Lanka 135
Romania 104
Cuba 103
All Other 2,644
Total Inadmissibles 54,212

Decisions Made by Port Authorities

Asylums claims were reported by CBP for only one percent of Ukrainians. In contrast, in April roughly one in five (21%) individuals stopped at ports of entry from countries other than Ukraine were seeking asylum. These individuals reported a credible fear of persecution if returned to their home countries according to CBP case-by-case records.

Decisions in April made by CBP port authorities differed markedly for Ukrainians as compared with other nationalities. See Table 3. Fully 95 percent of Ukrainians while not formally admitted were “paroled” and allowed to enter and temporarily remain in the U.S. Parole is often granted for humanitarian reasons, as it was here.[4] This discretionary authority is provided under immigration law to allow individuals to enter the U.S. for humanitarian and other purpose when individuals lack visas or other required entry documents.

Out of the 20,994 arrivals, only a very small number (92) of Ukrainians were turned away.[5] An additional 7 who would otherwise have been subject to expedited removal were found to have a credible fear of persecution and were turned over to ICE for detention until their status could be resolved. Only 285 were issued Notices to Appear in Immigration Court. In these cases, most (246) were seeking asylum and had been found to have a credible fear of persecution. Most of those issued an NTA (241) were handed over to ICE for custody.

The pattern of decision was markedly different for others not from Ukraine. Two-thirds of non-Ukrainians were turned away and not allowed entry. Of these, roughly a quarter (26%) were allowed to withdraw their request to enter the country without legal penalty, and an additional three percent were refused entry under the Visa Waiver Program. In addition, seven percent were issued expedited orders of removal. A further thirty-one percent were crew members who were not allowed to set foot in the U.S. and were either refused landing rights or detained on board.

The remaining one third were allowed into the U.S. However, many of these were turned over to ICE for custody rather than released by CBP. Just 11 percent – compared to 95 percent of Ukrainians – were “paroled” and allowed to enter and temporarily remain in the U.S. Even for these individuals, custody of 178 was reported to have been turned over to ICE and they were not immediately released.

Of the remaining 22 percent who were issued an NTA, almost all (94%) were seeking asylum and had a credible fear of persecution. Almost four out of ten (38%) issued an NTA were not released but were turned over to ICE for custody.

Table 3. Comparison of the Disposition of Ukrainians vs. Non-Ukrainians Stopped as Inadmissible by CBP Port Officials, April 2022
Top Customs and Border Protection Disposition All Inadmissibles Ukraine All Other
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Allowed to withdraw
Expedited removal
With credible fear (turned over to ICE until status determined)
Allowed to enter U.S. (paroled)
Visa Waiver Program - refused
Notice to Appear (NTA) in Immigration Court issued
Seeking asylum with credible fear
Crew members refused landing rights or detained on board
Total Inadmissibles
[1]^ Inadmissibles are defined by Customs and Border Protection as “individuals encountered at ports of entry who are seeking lawful admission into the United States but are determined to be inadmissible, individuals presenting themselves to seek humanitarian protection under our laws, and individuals who withdraw an application for admission and return to their countries of origin within a short timeframe.”
[2]^ For inadmissibles, almost three out of four (73%) non-Ukrainians were males.
[3]^ For inadmissibles, only 20 percent of non-Ukrainians were adults with children, and just 257 out of 33,218 were unaccompanied minors.
[4]^ See April 21, 2022 announcement of new streamlined process to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion. After April 25, the announcement warned that “Ukrainians should not travel to Mexico to pursue entry into the United States. Following the launch of Uniting for Ukraine, Ukrainians who present at land U.S. ports of entry without a valid visa or without pre-authorization to travel to the United States through Uniting for Ukraine will be denied entry and referred to apply through this program.” The number of Ukrainians who were classified as “inadmissible” abruptly dropped sharply to a few dozen each day after April 25. However, there was no observable increase in Ukrainian inadmissibles turned away after that date. Data on numbers granted advance parole through this program (and thus no longer categorized as “inadmissible”) was not yet available.
[5]^ An additional 566 crew members were not allowed to set foot in the U.S. and were either refused landing rights or detained on board.
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* This report showcases the first significant change in the design of TRAC's reports in many years and reflects TRAC's commitment to making improvements that will benefit our users.