Antiwar Activists Who Flee Russia Find Detention, Not Freedom, in the U.S.

Many asylum seekers are released into the country and allowed to argue their cases later in court. But thousands are sent to detention centers, where it is difficult to secure lawyers and collect evidence, and the chances of winning asylum are extremely slim.

ICE has not released statistics on the nationalities of migrants being held behind bars, and immigration detention centers house people of all nationalities. But lawyers who work regularly with migrants say Russian asylum seekers appear to have been detained at relatively high rates in recent months — sometimes with bonds set in excess of $30,000. Some Russians have remained incarcerated for months under conditions they describe as extremely harsh.

“Proportionately, compared to people from other countries, there are more Russians being sent to detention,” said Svetlana Kaff, a San Francisco-based immigration lawyer who said she has been flooded with requests for help.

Like the young doctors who were held in Louisiana, many said they had come to the United States thinking they would be welcomed as allies in America’s push for democracy in Russia and Ukraine.

Olga Nikitina, who fled Russia with her husband after he was imprisoned there multiple times, spent five months in the same facility as Ms. Shemiatina. “The whole time I was there, they treated us like garbage,” said Ms. Nikitina, 33. “I called hotlines, but it did not help in any way”

Her husband, Aleksandr Balashov, 33, was detained for four months at a facility in Batavia, N.Y., where he says officers told him and others that they had no rights because they had entered the country illegally.

Ivan Sokolovski, 25, another activist, has been held at Pine Prairie for seven months. He recently lost his asylum case and said he fears that he will be deported to his death. “It would have been more humane to be shot dead at the border than to be held in prison so long,” he said.