According to two administration officials, the Biden administration is preparing to launch a program for Ukrainian refugees that will expedite the process for those trying to immigrate to the United States.
The program comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s commitment to accept the 100,000 people fleeing war-torn Ukraine through a series of legal avenues and focus on family reunification. More than two weeks after that announcement, the administration has yet to provide additional details and hundreds of Ukrainians have decided to cross the US-Mexico border to gain entry into the country.
The new parole programme, which could begin as early as next week, is expected to help those wishing to come to the US and allow them to stay in the country temporarily. According to an administration official, individuals to come to the country will have to fill out a sponsorship application on their behalf by someone in the US. The details of the plan are being finalized now.
According to an administration official, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are involved in the program. The approach is the same as was done with the Afghans after the fall of Kabul.
CNN reached out to the White House for comment. The State Department referred CNN to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not immediately return a request for comment.
Since Biden announced last month that he would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians, officials have discussed how to prioritize applicants, including how to accommodate refugees fleeing potential persecution, a person familiar with the deliberations said. According to.
One official said the White House is partly focused on protecting vulnerable refugees, including individuals with specific medical needs or from third countries who already fled Ukraine to escape persecution elsewhere – including dissidents, Journalists and LGBTQ people are included.
The policy process, including what mechanisms fleeing Ukraine can use to come to the United States, has been a topic of conversation among administration officials since the president’s announcement.
Still, Biden’s aides believe most of the more than 4 million people who fled Ukraine would prefer to live in the region. The 100,000 figure Biden unveiled during a visit to Brussels in March does not necessarily reflect the number of refugees that US officials believe will eventually seek entry to the United States, an official said. .
The US has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to help neighboring Ukraine, including Poland, where Biden visited last month with refugees and aid workers.
On Monday, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, met with National Security Council officials at the White House to discuss the refugee crisis in Europe. He also met Foreign Minister Antony Blinken on Tuesday.
The normal refugee resettlement route to the US is a slow and cumbersome process, often taking years. In March, only a dozen Ukrainians had come to the US through the program and had applied years earlier, probably long before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Dozens of Ukrainians are often resettled in the US monthly, according to refugee advocates, but the closure of commercial airspace in war-torn Ukraine led to cancellations of flights and Ukrainians ready to come to the US as refugees. Their flights are gradually being booked from other countries.
In a recent bipartisan letter, lawmakers, mostly Democrats, suggested that the administration “use existing administrative options to improve efficient processing for Ukrainians outside the United States who already qualify for immigration benefits.” ” This includes, the lawmakers said, providing additional resources to US embassy personnel in Europe who are involved in processing immigrants and refugees and waiving immigration application fees.
Refugee advocates, who are closely involved in the resettlement of refugees, have expressed concern about admitting Ukrainians through parole because it prevents them from accessing the benefits offered to refugees.
“They are inventing this new approach through parole, which offers no protection, no safety net and is therefore worrisome and leaves the applicant at the mercy of a backlog and a broken asylum system if they Want to live here permanently,” said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization.
The challenge that some Ukrainians face in reaching the US via the current legal route is partly reflected on the US-Mexico border. There, hundreds gathered to enter the US through a port of entry and potentially be paroled in the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Meyerkas told CBS News last week that around 3,000 Ukrainians entered the US at the US-Mexico border within a week.
“What we do on an individual basis is evaluate whether a Ukrainian family and other families in other countries qualify for our discretionary right to grant humanitarian parole,” Mayerkas said.
According to the agency, US Customs and Border Protection has sent additional officers to the port of entry to San Ysidro, near the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
For those already living in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security extended a form of humanitarian relief—known as temporary protected status—so that Ukrainians could be returned to the U.S. without fear of deportation if they were out of that position. be allowed to stay. Lawmakers asked Biden to extend that position to more recent arrivals as well. Currently, Ukrainians must have been in the US by March 1 to be eligible.
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