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Biden administration taking heat for new Ukrainian settlement program

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled an expedited humanitarian parole initiative to further his administration’s commitment to bring in 100,000 new arrivals fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Dubbed “Uniting for Ukraine,” the program is meant to simplify and expand the application process for a fraction of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have been displaced by full-scale war, with the ultimate goal to temporarily resettle migrants within the United States.

“We are proud to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression to the United States,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “The Ukrainian people continue to suffer immense tragedy and loss as a result of Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on their country.”

To qualify for the program, applicants must be fully vaccinated and have lived in Ukraine as of Feb. 11. In addition, Ukrainians will have to pass biometric and biographic screening while also being vetted through security checks. Only then, will approved candidates be granted parole in the U.S. for up to two years and given work authorization.

However, as part of this new process, the State Department will now deny entry to Ukrainians looking to enter the U.S. from land borders without a valid visa or authorization.

Resettlement organizations have criticized the move, noting that the administration is relying on humanitarian parole instead of bolstering the refugee admissions process.

“Relying on temporary parole amounts to putting bandages on open wounds,” Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a statement. “The administration cannot continue to lurch from one crisis to another without increasing overall capacity for permanent protection in the United States. Today’s announcement suggests that if the Biden administration wants to make refugee protection a priority, it can find a way to get there.”

While both humanitarian parolees and refugees may be escaping similar conditions in Ukraine, the latter are on a pathway to permanent residence with support of the refugee assistance program. The administration is still working to resettle more than 76,000 Afghans who arrived last summer after the Taliban seized power, with the vast majority considered humanitarian parolees.

In October, Biden announced that he was raising the refugee cap to 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.

Despite the change in rhetoric since former President Donald Trump’s administration drastically curbed refugee admissions, State Department data shows only 8,758 refugees have been brought to the U.S. since October. Only 12 Ukrainians arrived in the U.S. through the refugee resettlement system in March, despite U.S. Customs and Border Protection data documenting a little more than 5,000 Ukrainians arriving in the country over the same period — most entering through Mexico.

The State Department promised an expansion to the Refugee Admissions Program by offering simplified resettlement access under the Lautenberg Amendment, a family reunification process for Christians and Jews in Ukraine. The U.S. will also continue to work with European embassies and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to help Ukrainians who are displaced, while also separately offering more than $1 billion in new funding toward humanitarian assistance in Ukraine.

Still, resettlement organizations say the U.S. has an obligation to all asylum seekers, not just those in Ukraine.

“We are troubled by unequal access to protection for other at-risk populations, all of whom are likewise deserving and in need of refuge. Afghans left behind following last summer’s evacuation have not been afforded a parole program, despite advocates’ calls for such a pathway to safety,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement. “Rather than revoking exemptions for Ukrainians, however, the administration should exercise its discretion to accept those of other nationalities equally in need of protection.”

Applications for those based in the U.S. who wish to sponsor incoming parolees from Ukraine will open April 25 on the DHS website.

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