U.S. Welcomes Ukrainians—But Without Access to Benefits

TOn Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), launched Uniting for Ukraine. This program is intended to resettle as many Ukrainians as possible in the U.S. Although human rights activists applauded this new program, many criticised the way that Ukrainians are now allowed to enter the country.

The new program will allow Ukrainians to enter the U.S. through an emergency DHS channel called humanitarian parole. It is entirely separate from the U.S. Department of State’s Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), which was severely undercut by the Trump Administration. Ukrainians who are granted asylum under USRAP may not be eligible to receive refugee status. These benefits include citizenship, work authorization and the opportunity to reunite families with those living abroad. A person on humanitarian parole cannot be guaranteed access to medical care, or any other safety net programs. This can create a financial hardship for a population in desperate need.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a refugee resettlement organization, described Uniting for Ukraine as “a concrete step forward,” but criticized the Administration for “outsourc[ing]It is its moral duty to assist newly-arrived Ukrainians. Without access to traditional refugee resettlement benefits, we urge policy makers to consider implementing some semblance of a safety net for those rebuilding their lives from scratch.”

The Administration’s decision to utilize humanitarian parole in this case offers a window into the depth of dysfunction at USRAP, which, since Trump, has granted entry to historically low numbers of refugees. Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 cap on admission was just 15,000 Biden raised FY2022’s cap on refugees to 125,000, however, it still has the potential to accept only 20,000, according to Migration Policy Institute. This nonpartisan research group is not affiliated with Trump. USRAP is largely on the margins, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a DHS agency, is now the U.S. government’s refugee processor.

Biden Administration used humanitarian parole for the resettlement of tens or thousands of migrants. Nearly all would be considered refugees. That includes more than 76,000 Afghans since August 2021, and hundreds of families in cases where a parent was deported without their children during the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy. USCIS typically receives approximately 2,000 humanitarian parole requests per year. However, it has already processed thousands of them since July 1.

Ukrainians can be seen as a prime example of an average refugee group. They are fleeing Russia’s war, which has has killed 2,345 civilians and injured 2,919 as of April 20, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Five million have fled Ukraine in the past five years, according to UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. UN Refugee Agency.

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Joe Biden, President of the United States announced Uniting For Ukraine on April 21. On March 24, the Administration committed to admitting up to 100,000 Ukrainians. However, it did not provide details about how these people would be handled in the U.S. Since March 24, the Administration had previously committed to accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainians, but did not provide details on how they would be processed into the U.S. USCIS processes asylum cases, and not USRAP.

“We are proud to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression to the United States,” said DHS Security Alejandro Mayorkas in an April 21 public statement. “DHS will continue to provide relief to the Ukrainian people, while supporting our European allies who have shouldered so much as the result of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.”

Melanie Nezer is the senior vice president of global public affairs for HIAS. This refugee resettlement organisation welcomes the new program. However, she warns that there will be trouble. “Uniting for Ukraine will be an important mechanism to allow Ukrainians to reunite with their loved ones in the United States, but it is not a panacea,” she said in an April 21 public statement. “Humanitarian parole creates yet another group of people who are forced to live in limbo, without any sense of permanency. HIAS will continue to urge the administration to rely on the U.S. refugee resettlement program to respond to refugee emergencies rather than using parole, a system that is wholly insufficient in ensuring that new arrivals have access to the support and a sense of choice and control over their futures offered through resettlement.”

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Through Uniting for Ukraine, people and entities in the U.S.—including citizens, permanent residents, visa holders, and NGOs—can sponsor Ukrainians abroad who were residents of the Eastern European country as of February 11, DHS says. According to DHS, Ukrainians who want to travel to the U.S. must complete all vaccinations, meet other health requirements and go through rigorous biometric, biographic, and security screenings. DHS says that after they meet these requirements, they will be able to travel to America to seek humanitarian parole. It is granted on a case by case basis and will last two years. Ukrainians who have been granted humanitarian parole will become eligible to apply for work authorization.

Nezer tells TIME that the Uniting for Ukraine program may not work for those who don’t already know a sponsor in the U.S. “People who have contacts in the U.S., people who have family members here, or colleagues, or friends, or an employer may quickly get some relief,” Nezer says, “but people who don’t have those contacts, but who may be the most vulnerable, may have to wait longer.”

DHS says that Uniting for Ukraine was created to support refugee processing. However, Nezer is not sure why the U.S. has chosen to again process a group of displaced people via humanitarian parole rather than USRAP. To remedy humanitarian parole’s deficiencies, it usually takes a Congress act.

“The plan can’t be to admit people on a temporary status and then just wait for them to become undocumented and hope that Congress acts,” Nezer says, noting that Congress has yet to act on a bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for the 76,000 Afghans who have also arrived in the U.S. under humanitarian parole.

DHS has stated that Ukrainians shouldn’t travel further to Mexico after Uniting for Ukraine is launched. The U.S. Border Patrol exempts Ukrainians from Title 42, a policy which prevents most nationalities from seeking asylum in the U.S. The exemption will now be refused to Ukrainians and they will instead be referred for the Uniting for Ukraine program.

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