Updates Regarding Ukraine and Help for Ukrainians
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The Department of Homeland Security has issued an announcement regarding Ukraine.
What we know so far:
- No more Ukrainians will be permitted to come in through our Southern border after April 25.
- Many, including those showing up on our Southern border after April 25, will be encouraged to apply for parole through this new “Uniting for Ukraine” program.
- The program requires persons or institutions willing and able to financially support the Ukrainian(s) who are trying to come into the United States.
- This is still temporary – two years – and is not an immigration status; it does, however, afford the parolee work authorization.
- Attempts are being made to expedite the vetting for refugees in need of resettlement, but it remains unclear what is happening with that.
- Applications for the Uniting for Ukraine program can be found here: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/uniting-for-ukraine.
This morning, thank goodness, the Biden Administration announced a willingness for the US to take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. This is welcome news. However, it is still unclear how soon those refugees can be processed and let into the country. Since September 11, 2001, the United States has had the most rigorous security vetting process in the world. As a result, refugees often wait close to a decade or longer to be vetted. And they cannot come into the United States until that vetting process has been completed. If President Biden substantially increases the overseas staffing so that the vetting can be processed quickly, we should be able to see refugees arrive here within a few months. But only if the staffing is increased or the current vetting process is simplified.
Meanwhile, Biden also announced that every available pathway would be available to Ukrainians who are fleeing and wish to come to the United States. As we mentioned previously, there are three “pathways”:
- humanitarian parole (merely an entry visa, not a legal status)
- family based petitions or
- petitions for protection pursuant to the Lautenberg Amendment.
Pathway number one, since it is not a legal status, will require a Ukrainian to apply for asylum once they arrive in the United States. All three pathways currently take three to five years because of the processing required. So, as with refugee status, if Biden significantly increases staffing or simplifies the processes, then these tools can be utilized as realistic responses to the current crisis. Otherwise, they will not result in immediate relief to the fleeing Ukrainians, their family members here, or to Europe who is taking people in at a much faster rate.
Given this, our advocacy ask is quite simple: ensure that the processing of immigration petitions occurs within a reasonable time limit (no more than ninety days) through either increased staffing or simplified rules.
Please contact President Biden and your legislators now to demand that our immigration system be responsive to need – both ours as a country who needs families and young people and the needs of the displaced who need stability and welcome for themselves and their families.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas announced the designation of Temporary Protected Status for Ukrainians on March 3, 2022. The status begins on that date and will last for eighteen months. It will provide Ukrainians here whose visas have expired or will expire in the coming months, with the temporary ability to remain here and work for the next eighteen months. Note, however, that only Ukrainians who have been in this country continuously since before March 1, 2022 are eligible for this status. The announcement is a recognition that Ukrainians here cannot go home. But it provides no help for Ukrainians who wish to come here or who arrived here after March 1, 2022. If you believe you are eligible for this relief and are a low-income Pennsylvanian, you may call our intake line at (215) 832-0900 for help.
In addition, Congress, on 3/16, approved the reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment. This is a federal law, passed in the 1990s to help rescue Jews from the Soviet Union. Since that time, it has been used to protect historically persecuted religious minorities and every year HIAS PA files approximately 100 petitions pursuant to this law. We stand ready, now that the law has been reauthorized, to do so again for as many people as possible as soon as possible. However, only those with family ties to the people fleeing are able to use this process. Furthermore, the process requires processing through the US Embassy in Ukraine, which is currently closed. Processing will take place in other US Embassies in Eastern Europe but fleeing Ukrainians must get themselves to those Embassies in order to complete the processing. Finally, there are several thousand applicants in the Ukrainian Lautenberg pipeline. The processing will take between three to five years unless an expedited process is created. During that time, the Ukrainians who flee will have to stay in another country, far from their own home and separated from their family members here.
As indicated in our initial statement, for those Ukrainians seeking to leave Ukraine, as a local resettlement agency, we have no authority or ability to get people out of the country. This power lies with our federal government. They need to not only indicate a willingness to resettle the refugees that are fleeing now but also expedite the health and security vetting process that all refugees must undergo before being cleared for travel. That process, the most rigorous in the world since September 11, 2001, currently takes close to a decade for most refugees to undergo. For ten years, and sometimes longer, families fleeing violence and persecution must live precariously in situations where they are, at best, second-class citizens with limited rights in the countries where they stay and wait to be cleared. At worst, they live in camps with inadequate health care, nutrition, education, or employment. This is what will happen to the Ukrainians who are currently fleeing if the United States does nothing to streamline and expedite this process.
We applaud Governor’s Wolf’s efforts to prepare the state for incoming refugees and we hope our Federal Government will follow suit soon by expediting the legal avenues that will permit fleeing Ukrainians to come here. For now, the State Department has updated its website to include information about what it is currently doing regarding the evolving situation in Ukraine and those that are fleeing.
In addition to filing the petitions described above and advocating for improvements to the refugee process, we can and will file petitions on behalf of immediate relatives of permanent residents or US citizens. However, in accordance with Department of state guidelines, processing for Ukrainians will occur at the Consulate General in Frankfurt since the US Embassy in Kyiv is now closed. Furthermore, even for those who make it to Frankfurt to complete the processing, processing times are generally several years.
Another potential avenue is something called humanitarian parole – an entry visa, not a legal status, but a visa which would permit the visa-holder to enter the United States and seek asylum here. However, at the moment this avenue is severely delayed (it takes many, many months to process these applications). Additionally, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS), has been employing an unfairly rigid standard, there is a $575 per person filing fee and an applicant has to show that they have sufficient income and assets to ensure that they will not become a public charge. Finally, the processing of humanitarian parole is something that also requires services from the US Embassy which is something that can only be done in a country other than Ukraine.
In short, the three back-to-back displacement crises that the world has experienced in the last six months – in Haiti, Afghanistan and now in Ukraine – have made one thing extraordinarily clear – the United States is not responsive to urgent humanitarian need.
Our immigration laws are built on a foundation of exclusion. We have long lists of people who are NOT allowed to migrate and even longer lists of bureaucratic hurdles persons who are supposedly permitted to migrate must jump through before they can do so. And the irony is, alongside the images of violence and despair around the world, are headlines in our own newspapers of high inflation, staffing crises in every industry, the “great resignation” of the baby boomers with no young people to take their place because the birth rate has declined for more than a decade, our health care system is in crisis as nurses and doctors quit from exhaustion and burnout, bankruptcies due to medical bills continue at a steady pace, the affordable housing crisis is growing in cities and towns across the United States and the shrinking of the middle class is ongoing. These issues, seemingly disparate, are connected and solvable. We, in this moment, need immigrants as much as immigrants need us.
The need for newcomers who want nothing more than safety and stability, who bring with them their courage in leaving their homes, their strength in surviving hardship after hardship and keeping themselves and their families safe, their resilience in the face of trauma, is as great as it was in the 17th Century. The crisis in Ukraine, on top of the crises in Afghanistan and Haiti should galvanize us: we should be demanding that Congress and the President let people in, bring them here, make them welcome. We should live up to our ideals of providing a haven for the poor, the hungry and those yearning to breathe free. Because doing so allows us to live up to our promises to our children that we will leave our country – and our world – a better place for them.
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