(Headline USA) The Biden administration is making it easier for refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine to come to the United States from Europe while trying to shut down an informal route through northern Mexico that has emerged due to his administration’s failure to close the border.
A program announced Thursday will streamline refugee applications for Ukrainians and others fleeing the fighting, but will no longer routinely grant entry to those who show up at the U.S.–Mexico border seeking asylum, as thousands have done since the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin began almost two months ago.
Although Biden’s administration intentionally loosened former President Donald Trump’s border policies for “humanitarian” purposes, the crossings there are largely dominated by drug cartels and human traffickers, making it a perilous route.
Terrorists, child rapists and even Russians themselves might also threaten to co-mingle with the Ukrainians as they attempt to stroll across the border.
The U.S. says it expects to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, and about 15,000 have come since the Feb. 24 invasion, mostly through Mexico.
Starting Monday, that route will no longer be an option except in extreme circumstances, officials said.
It’s an effort by the U.S. to uphold its commitment to help Eastern European nations contend with the 5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine while trying to reduce the number of special-visa-holding migrants seeking to cross the U.S.–Mexico border.
Complicating matters, however, the U.S. plans next month to lift a public health order, known as Title 42, that enables authorities to quickly turn away migrants at the U.S.–Mexico border without giving them a chance to claim asylum.
The Biden administration has been exempting Ukrainian refugees, but will do so no longer.
“We are proud to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression to the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the effort. “The Ukrainian people continue to suffer immense tragedy and loss as a result of Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on their country.”
U.S. officials say a majority of the Ukrainian refugees want to stay in Eastern Europe because many have family fighting in the war and eventually hope to return home.
Advocates have said the U.S. should take more than 100,000 refugees and do more to expedite the process.
Much of the public seems to agree. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows 65% of Americans favor accepting Ukrainian refugees into the U.S., while 15% oppose. An additional 19% say they neither favor nor oppose.
To qualify for admission to the U.S. under the new expedited program, officially known as Uniting for Ukraine, people must have been in Ukraine as of Feb. 11; have a sponsor, which could be family or an organization; complete vaccinations and other public health requirements and pass background checks.
Typically, they would start the application process in their home country, but that’s no longer possible because the U.S. pulled its diplomats from Ukraine.
The State Department will expand resettlement operations in Eastern Europe under the new program to compensate.
Most will receive two years of residence and authorization to work in the United States under what’s known as humanitarian parole.
Those who coming to the U.S. through the formal refugee process, including thousands who will come as members of religious minority groups, will have permanent legal residency.
A downside of the new effort is that humanitarian parole generally does not include temporary housing support and other benefits provided to border-crossing illegals.
Nevertheless, refugee advocates welcomed the announcement.
“Families desperately seeking to bring their loved ones directly to safety in the U.S. have a glimmer of hope where there once was exceedingly little,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Refugees will encounter a streamlined process in Europe, but they won’t be able to complete it in Mexico, senior administration officials told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the program before the public announcement.
Instead, Ukrainians who show up at the border will generally be turned away without being able to apply for asylum under the public health order that has been in place since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said Title 42, which has been used to turn away more than 1.7 million people, is set to end May 23.
The agency is under pressure to keep it in place not to control COVID-19, as it was supposedly intended, but to help ease an increase in migrants seeking to cross the border.
Even some Democrats, fearful of a catastrophic midterm election, have joined the chorus of those demanding that the policy’s end be forestalled till after November.
Throughout the Biden administration has frequently ignored the risk of infected migrants bringing COVID with them as they relocate to various parts of the nation’s interior.
However, most cases of the virus now appear to be nonlethal, which hospitilizations and deaths on the decline in every region except the Northeast.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press