More than 3 million refugees have fled war-torn Ukraine for neighboring countries within weeks, leading to calls for more countries – specifically the United States – to take in refugees. Polish President Andrzej Duda personally asked Vice President Kamala Harris last week to speed up and simplify procedures allowing Ukrainians with families in the United States to come to the country.
For Biden, welcoming Ukrainian refugees to the United States would also help bolster the idea of Western unity in the face of Russian aggression, according to one of the officials. The president told his team that the United States must be prepared to do its part, even as the details of how to do it have yet to be finalized.
Even as they work to identify ways to help Ukrainians, White House officials who monitor the refugee situation said they believe the crisis is still in its early stages, with the potential to expand significantly in the coming weeks or months. There are concerns among some that Poland, along with poor countries in the region, will not be able to absorb the steady flow of migrants that could last for months, according to officials.
This has added urgency to discussions about US aid, as Biden aides work to develop options that might ease the burden on Ukraine’s neighbors.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Thursday that the administration is working closely with the United Nations refugee agency to find out how the United States can support Ukrainian refugees and is evaluating what the administration can do to facilitate family reunification.
“We are looking at things that we can do ourselves and do them directly. For example, looking at the steps that we might be able to take on family reunification and other things that we can do to be supportive and really participate in this effort,” Blinken said, adding that The administration has also provided millions in humanitarian aid.
However, it is unlikely that there will be an attack by Ukrainian refugees on the United States in the same way that unfolded with the Afghans last year, given that some are expected to remain in Europe due to ties there. But the need to help countries in the region that accept these refugees is growing.
During meetings in Warsaw, Duda Harris warned that his country’s resources were being severely strained by the influx of refugees, even as his country welcomed them with open arms. Harris received a similar message the next day in Romania, where thousands of refugees had fled.
In the meetings, Harris made clear that the United States was willing to provide more financial assistance to those countries to deal with new refugee flows. But White House officials also believe there will be increased international and congressional pressure to welcome more refugees into the United States, given that it is far richer than the eastern European nations facing the influx.
“There is no way for them to get here.”
There are currently limited options for those who want family reunification in the US, prompting desperate pleas from Ukrainian Americans willing to take in their relatives.
The process of resettling refugees in the United States, for example, can take years. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman acknowledged the process is long and arduous in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, adding, “We’ve always welcomed refugees, even if it sometimes takes a while to get here.” Sherman said management is evaluating the paths forward daily.
Since October, at least 690 Ukrainian refugees have been accepted into the United States, according to State Department data. Ukrainian refugees previously benefited from the Luttenberg Amendment, which was enacted in 1989 to protect those fleeing religious persecution from the former Soviet Union. This option is still open but is unlikely to meet the new and urgent demand.
There are ways to shorten the process under discussion, such as a priority setting that bypasses referral from the United Nations refugee agency to provide direct access to the US Refugee Admissions Program. There is also a form of parole that allows people fleeing urgent humanitarian crises to enter the United States. These two methods have been used before in moments of conflict, including after the evacuation from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, refugee advocates are preparing for the arrival of the Ukrainians.
“We know they have to be brought here,” said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization, adding that resettlement for such cases may be easier since there are relatives in the United States who can step in to help.
But Hetfield cautioned that the Ukrainians should come to the United States in a legal status or be provided with a path to that status, to avoid a situation in which they would be in a legal limbo, as happened with the Afghans.
People in the United States with Ukrainian relatives have exhausted many options to bring their families into the country, but in some cases they have not been found, due to strict visa rules.
Ashley Testa and her husband, Misha Gharib, spent five days in Jacksonville, Florida, trying to help relatives in Ukraine sail to the Polish border in search of safety. Now the obstacle they face is moving family members to the United States.
“There is no way for them to get here,” Testa said. The only way is to hope that the US government will start accepting Ukrainian refugees.
This week, a Ukrainian-American family joined Democratic Representative Tom Suzzi of New York in urging the administration to exempt Ukrainians trying to come to the United States on tourist visas to connect with the family.
But to get tourist visas, Ukrainians must apply and get appointments at US consulates and prove that they are coming to the US for a short period – a requirement set forth in law. This resulted in some Ukrainians being prevented from traveling to the United States, due to uncertain circumstances in their country, including family relatives who joined Suozzi on Monday.
While it is unclear what forms of assistance the administration will eventually provide to people seeking entry to the United States, officials are also tracking a possible rise in Ukrainians and Russians who may travel to the United States, including at the southwestern border, the Department of Defense said. internal. An official told CNN.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas told reporters Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security reminded border officials that some Ukrainians could be exempted from the Trump-era Pandemic Emergency Act, known as Title 42, which allows for the rapid expulsion of immigrants.
“Directives have been issued to Border Patrol agents reminding them of the fact that individual exceptions to the Title 42 authority held by the (CDC) are valid and can be applied to Ukrainians,” he said.
Ukrainian and Russian families have begun lining up at a checkpoint along the California-Mexico border, according to lawyers and attorneys on the ground. One family was allowed away last week.
The Biden administration has also taken some steps to deal with Ukrainians in the United States and those potentially willing to immigrate to the United States, including offering some form of humanitarian relief to Ukrainians already in the United States and expediting visa forms.
The relief, known as temporary protected status, applies to people who would face extreme hardship if they were forced to return to their homelands devastated by armed conflict or natural disaster. Therefore, protection is limited to people who are already in the United States.
CNN reported earlier this month that it is estimated that about 75,100 people are eligible to apply for TPS under the Ukraine designation.
This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.
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