5th Marianas History Conference Day 7 - 10

Page 123

From Tourists to Asylees

Russian Citizens in Guam

By Dr. Christopher Rasmussen

Assistant Professor of History, University of Guam

Abstract: When the US Department of Homeland Security decided to admit Russian visitors to Guam without a visa in 2012, it seemed to be a happy convergence of US foreign policy and the desires of local political and tourist industry leaders. The policy added to the Obama administration’s “Russia reset” and paroled relatively free-spending Russian tourists for 45-day visits. Two years later, however, events in Russia led to a sharp decline of overseas travel and a rise in political repression. As one of the few places Russian citizens could travel without a visa, Guam became a lifeline to hundreds of Russian asylum seekers. The plight of these migrants reveals the cruelty of federal immigration policies, the extent to which Guam is subject to the vagaries of US foreign policy, and how Guam has welcomed these new arrivals and how they have adapted.

Beginning in the fall of 2020 around two dozen Russian citizens seeking asylum in Guam began gathering for irregular weekend rallies. In September, outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office across the street from Home Depot, protesters demanded the resumption of video hearings, which had ceased in May 2019. Without hearings, those seeking defensive asylum could not apply for work authorization. The fall rallies came as the Pacific island territory was recording some of the highest rates of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, underscoring the protesters’ determination and despair. Organizer Egor Elkin had arrived in Guam in March 2019 and, unlike many of the protesters, had been working for months. He said he was lucky. “Some people live on the beach,” Elkin explained. “Some people had to live in container units – no air conditioning. Some people get arrangements with local people for a room and help out [around the house].” By the end of 2020, a handful of asylum-seekers were contemplating hunger strikes to prod the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process their claims or for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to allow them to board flights to the mainland. While the emergence of a semipermanent population of sometimes desperate Russian asylum seekers has caught local attention, a deeper history grounded in Guam’s relationship to the United States has yet to be examined.1


For examples of local interest in the stories asylum seekers’ plight and political activities, see John O’Connor’s multi-part series in the Guam Daily Post, John O’Connor, “Russian Asylum Seekers Plan Hunger Strike,” Guam Daily Post, Feb. 21, 22, 23, 2021.

Articles inside

Ginen I Gualo’ article cover image

Ginen I Gualo’

pages 273-285
Gendered Households and Ceramic Assemblage article cover image

Gendered Households and Ceramic Assemblage

pages 141-164
The Matua’s Song article cover image

The Matua’s Song

page 55
Burego’ Joyful Christmas Celebration article cover image

Burego’ Joyful Christmas Celebration

pages 9-15
A History and Archaeology of the Pre-war Tuna Fishing Industry in Micronesia article cover image

A History and Archaeology of the Pre-war Tuna Fishing Industry in Micronesia

pages 225-240
Fishing Weirs at the Edge of the Parian article cover image

Fishing Weirs at the Edge of the Parian

pages 201-224
Matter of Time article cover image

Matter of Time

pages 135-140
I Hinanao-ta article cover image

I Hinanao-ta

pages 243-272
Tådong Marianas article cover image

Tådong Marianas

pages 287-290
Guam 1668-1769 article cover image

Guam 1668-1769

pages 175-184
Origins of the People of the Mariana Islands article cover image

Origins of the People of the Mariana Islands

pages 165-174
Japanese Archival Records article cover image

Japanese Archival Records

pages 185-199
From Tourists to Asylees article cover image

From Tourists to Asylees

pages 1, 123-132
Camp Chulu article cover image

Camp Chulu

pages 61-84
Celebrating 340 Years article cover image

Celebrating 340 Years

pages 17-44
Colonial Narratives article cover image

Colonial Narratives

pages 1, 85-103
Operation New Life article cover image

Operation New Life

pages 105-122
Long Term Effects of Colonization on Music article cover image

Long Term Effects of Colonization on Music

pages 47-54
Slinging Stones And Fanoghe Chamoru article cover image

Slinging Stones And Fanoghe Chamoru

pages 45-46
Refaluwasch and Chamorro Children’s Songs article cover image

Refaluwasch and Chamorro Children’s Songs

pages 57-58