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Migrants are appearing at the southern border of the United States in historic numbers. Here's why.

A man named Petr repeats this like a mantra. On a warm autumn evening in Tijuana, he is first in a long line seeking asylum in the United States.

"Catastrophe," he says again, almost in tears. It's a Russian word that means disaster. Petr, a middle-aged man who asked not to reveal his last name to protect his family back home, left Moscow over six months ago with his immediate family—wife and two teenage sons.

He says the war in Ukraine made their life in Russia unbearable, and he fears for his sons due to mandatory military service there. "In Russia, it's very tough," he says. "I can't describe it. It's very tough for me. Catastrophe!"

Petr says he and his family initially went to Mexico, where they lived working odd jobs until they were allowed to enroll with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for an asylum claim interview. It's a big day. He arrived six hours before the appointed time. Petr plans to request asylum for himself and his family in the U.S.

The same goes for dozens of other people who spent the whole day and night in this line, waiting for their interviews. They are mostly families. There are a few slots for interviews throughout the day. These people have set up camp for the late evening shift, hoping to be on the other side in San Diego by morning.

Last year, the Southwest border received a historic number of migrants, more than 2.4 million people, marking record-breaking figures in recent years. San Diego alone has received over 230,000 people this year, a 30% increase from the previous year.

Republicans have attributed this to the Biden administration's weak immigration policies.

The government has stated that it is a symptom of an unprecedented global movement of people. Biden is pursuing a dual immigration policy: punishing for illegal border crossings and expanding legal avenues for entry into the U.S.

"We can't stop people from making the journey," he said. "But we can demand they come here in an orderly way, according to U.S. law."

Ukrainians have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in the thousands NATIONAL Ukrainians have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in the thousands Migrants say the long wait for an asylum request interview prompts them to cross the U.S. border without documentation Tijuana is usually a noisy and bustling city: banda music pours out of restaurants; street vendors shout their offerings; and frustrated drivers honk their horns in traffic.

This contrast with the silence of migrants waiting in line creates a somewhat eerie feeling. They are exhausted. They say they want to follow legal paths to enter the U.S., but it has been an exhausting process.

Many of them told NPR that they waited for about six months just to get an interview. This leads to desperation. Petr says that after half a year of struggling to make ends meet in Mexico, he began to contemplate just crossing the border without documentation.

Another migrant, a young woman named Rossi Alejandra, says she also considered it. While waiting in line, she recalls her life in Venezuela, where she was a first-year medical school student. She says police and government persecution made everyday life impossible. "It's a dictatorship, plain and simple," she says.

She left for Mexico, where she lived in shelters, waiting for an appointment with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for months. "There were moments when I would get desperate. A month. Two months. And I started thinking... is it worth it for me to try to just cross the border?"

But she says she knew people who had tried and were deported, banned from entering the U.S. for five years. She says for her, deportation back to Venezuela would mean a threat to her life. She decided it wasn't worth it.