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Biden announces 'streamlined' plan to bring Ukrainian refugees to the U.S.

The administration said in March it would bring up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing war to the U.S.
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President Joe Biden announced a plan on Thursday to begin bringing Ukrainians fleeing war to the U.S., addressing a promise the president made nearly a month ago to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

In announcing the program Thursday morning, during an update on the situation in Ukraine, Biden said the program would be “fast” and “streamlined.”

“This new humanitarian parole program will complement the existing legal pathways available to Ukrainians … It will provide an expedient channel for secure legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor.”

The new plan, called Uniting for Ukraine, will require Ukrainians to have a sponsor in the U.S. who can “attest to their ability to support them,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters.

In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security called it a “streamlined process to provide Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the United States, fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression.” 

According to the senior administration officials, an online portal will open on April 25 to allow sponsors to upload documents as part of a process to ensure Ukrainians can be sponsored but that sponsors are not seeking to exploit the Ukrainians they take in.

That affidavit will be vetted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and, if sponsors are approved, they will begin the next steps, including providing vaccination documentation for the refugees.

Until now, thousands of Ukrainians have been illegally crossing the Mexican border in hopes of claiming asylum once they touch U.S. soil. Without a legal option, crossing the border was the only realistic path for Ukrainians seeking safety in the U.S.

Now, some Ukrainians will be able to enter legally through airports and avoid taking a risky journey through Mexico and across the southern border. 

The Biden administration maintains that most Ukrainians will want to seek refuge in Europe and return to their homes as soon as it is safe to do so, and therefore the U.S. does not need to provide the level of support to the war’s refugees as countries like Poland have done.

Refugee advocates have been calling on the Biden administration to provide a legal pathway to the U.S. and to guarantee permanent legal status to those that do come. They have argued that humanitarian parole given to Afghans who fled the Taliban takeover last fall failed to provide them safety and job security in the U.S. 

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said her organization is pleased to see the Biden administration take this step, but “disappointed” with the sponsorship component. 

“With the onus on sponsors to take financial responsibility, however, we are disappointed to see the administration outsource its moral obligation to support newly arrived Ukrainians,” said Vignarajah. “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. Similarly, while some beneficiaries may indeed only require temporary residence, others will need lasting protection that this program does not offer.”