Maksim Derzhko calls it one of the most terrifying experiences of his life. A longtime opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he flew from Vladivostok to the Mexican border city of Tijuana with his 14-year-daughter and was in a car with seven other Russians. All that separated them from claiming asylum in the United States was a U.S. officer standing in traffic as vehicles inched toward inspection booths. The emotions are “hard to put into words,” he says. “It’s fear. The unknown. It’s really hard. We had no choice.”
The gamble worked. After spending a day in custody, Derzkho was released to seek asylum with his daughter, joining thousands of Russians who have recently taken the same route to America.