McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A young Russian family who legally crossed the border from Mexico into the United States earlier this year have made their way to Seattle where a Russian-speaking church has taken them in and are helping them.
But Mikhail Manzurin, 25, tells Border Report he is struggling to bring in enough income to support his family because he doesn’t have a U.S. work permit.
Manzurin, who is a Christian pastor and foreign language teacher, and his wife, Nellie, 27, and their two young sons, Filip and Mark, spent 40 days living in Reynosa, Mexico, before being allowed to legally cross into South Texas in January. They left Russia fearful that Mikhail would be conscripted into the Russian army, they said.
Border Report first caught up with them while they lived in the basement of a McAllen church for two weeks after arriving. They then set out for Austin and then eventually made their way to Seattle where they have put down roots.
Border Report recently spoke with Mikhail via Zoom, where he said they were “blessed” to be in America.
He said other Russians, as well as Ukrainians and other immigrants from that region who live in Seattle, have donated items for the apartment that they helped them to rent. They bring toys and clothing for the boys. A Moldovan couple even brought them a coffeemaker, he said.
“It is such a heartwarming to feel like there are people here who can support you, who can feel you. And it’s a huge blessing for us,” Mikhail said.
The family chose to fly from Russia to Mexico in late 2022 after being outspoken opponents of Russia’s war against Ukraine. They made it to the northern Mexican border with the help of the nonprofit Practice Mercy Foundation, but waited for over 40 days in the crime-ridden cartel-controlled border city before U.S. Customs and Border Protection called them for an interview at a South Texas port of entry and they were legally allowed into the United States.
But being allowed to live in the United States and being allowed to work in the United States are two entirely different things.
An asylum-seeker who is in the country on humanitarian parole “is not supposed to be working without a work permit,” Priscilla Orta, a supervising attorney for the nonprofit Lawyers For Good Government, told Border Report.
But Orta says that makes it tough — and sometimes impossible — for thousands of immigrants, like Mikhail, to support their families.
Mikhail does not yet have a U.S. work permit, he told Border Report on Tuesday. However, he contracts language services online where he teaches English and Chinese language classes.
He does not have to prove that he is authorized to work in the United States to contract online services. But he cannot be hired by a U.S. company until he gets a work permit, legal experts tell Border Report.
“Generally speaking, it’s not a crime to work in the U.S. without authorization, although it is a crime to hire someone without authorization,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy council for the American Immigration Council, told Border Report on Tuesday.
“Many undocumented people work without work permits. How can this be? Well, there is no law that says working without a work permit is illegal. Rather, the law says that hiring a person without a work permit is illegal,” Orta said.
Mikhail says he is trying not to break any laws while trying to feed his family.
“It’s so difficult because you need to pay your bills. You need to pay for your housing. And it’s challenging. I’m trying to find work online, because if I do the work online, I do not break American laws. I don’t want to work illegally. So that’s, that’s quite challenging,” Mikhail said.
But even finding work online is sometimes tough. He says he has lost students after clients find out his political opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“I shared on Instagram that we still support Ukraine, and we pray for Ukraine, and we wish Ukraine could win this war. One mom of one of my students, she told me that ‘we don’t want to have classes with you anymore, because you support (Ukraine). So this is still what’s happened. And you know, Russian propaganda works. And it works very, very effectively,” he said.
But they have saved enough money to buy a car. And he says they are grateful for every little thing they have and for their safety in America.
He says he knows many Russian families who are trying to cross the border from Mexico, but who are being stopped and detained at airports in Cancun and Mexico City, because officials fear they will head north to the border to go to the United States.
“People in Russia, they understand that nothing is becoming better. And I think most people, they don’t believe that the war will be over soon. So people are making these kinds of decisions,” he said.
Russia has just entered its second year of war against Ukraine.
On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was extending humanitarian parole protections for qualifying Ukrainians who entered the United States between Feb. 24, 2022, and April 25, 2022. That was before the United for Ukraine parole program was implemented.
The extension will allow up to 20,000 Ukrainians who came through the southern border — many from Tijuana, Mexico, into San Diego, California — to legally remain in the United States.
As many as 100,000 Ukrainians have entered the United States through the United for Ukraine program, offered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The program allows Ukrainians to work while in the United States, without a work permit, according to the American Immigration Council.
Mikhail says he has met a Ukrainian couple in Seattle who came through the southern border during that time frame.
“Praise the Lord if these things work for them,” he said.