In the first four month of fiscal year 2022, (October 1, 2021 to January 31, 2022), more that 6,000 asylum seekers from Ukraine and RussiaThey were deported and apprehended at U.S. Border crossings. In late February, Russia invaded Ukraine. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), quickly changed gears to accommodate the influx from Ukrainians who started showing up at the U.S.–Mexico border. In fact, whether arriving on foot and in cars, most were allowed in and given “humanitarian parole.”
Not all displaced people have crossed into Mexico. Many have flown into the U.S. as “tourists” from Europe, landing in places where they have family or friends and hoping to file an asylum application once they regroup.
Sue Fox is the executive Director of The Shorefront YM-YWHABrighton Beach, Brooklyn, is home to thousands immigrants from countries once part of the USSR. She explained that many families from Russia and Ukraine are moving to Brooklyn with their children. Truthout — They have so far not had the resources to meet their demands.
“The biggest issue is housing, putting a roof over their heads, but apartments are very expensive,” Fox said. “These are folks who had a middle or upper-middle-class life in Ukraine and they don’t know what to do now that they’re here. Many have families, but their families don’t always have resources to give them.”
Fox responded by saying that she and her staff are working hard to help newcomers get access to health care, register their children in school, and connect them to food pantries, mental resources, and legal assistance.
It’s been difficult, Fox admits, because so much remains unknown.
“It’s difficult not to be able to provide answers,” Fox said. “But there are no answers yet. We don’t know what the procedures will be for people who want to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)” or other immigration safeguards.
This despite the March announcement from the Biden administration that the U.S. would accept. 100,000 refugees fleeing UkraineSpend $1 billion to help European countries accommodate the influx of refugees from war. TPS. This status is given to individuals forced to emigrate because of ongoing armed conflicts, large-scale environmental disasters, or “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in their home countries. Alejandro Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary, said that 75,100 Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. before March 1, 2022 will be eligible for TPS. This will allow them to remain in the country and work up to 18 month. However, the process of applying for asylum must be described in Federal Register. As of mid-April this was not yet done.
“It’s a confusing mess,” Jodi Ziesemer, director of the NY Legal Assistance Group,A provider of legal services for low-income people. Truthout. “There’s been a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. One hand, the U.S. tells Ukrainians that it is offering TPS to them in order to provide benefits. But these benefits are not actually available to them.”
Ziesemer is not the only one who has problems with this. Policies for those coming into the country from the southern border — as well as for those entering the U.S. from Canada — are inconsistent, she says, so different protocols are being applied depending on which government authorities, CBP or ICE agents a person sees. “There is great confusion,” she adds.
According to her, the unofficial policy is that Ukrainians are granted humanitarian parole at border. This allows them to enter Ukraine and work. However, parole is not a route to citizenship or green card. Anyone who has been granted this authorization must apply for asylum within one year of their arrival. This creates barriers, particularly for refugees who don’t know English. While there is no fee to file a claim, the 12-page form — which must be filled out in English — is cumbersome and usually requires the assistance of a trained advocate to complete. Necessary paperwork to substantiate claims may also be required — and be difficult to access for those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.
“It’s frustrating,” Ziesemer said. “People are returning to Europe because it’s easier for them to be in the EU, where they can live and work for up to three years. We’re trying to advise people as best we can, but there’s a lot of misinformation about what the U.S. is doing and offering.”
Ginger Cline works as a staff attorney for the Border Rights Project. Al Otro LadoSince 2020, she has been working in Tijuana. People from the San Diego area, including the Ukrainian and Russian communities, have helped to set-up food stations and tents for recent arrivals to Tijuana. Truthout. “CBP is coordinating with the Mexican police to bring a certain number of Ukrainians to the port of entry every hour,” she said, adding that priority is given to families with young children and those with serious medical needs.
She says that this is in stark contrast to how asylum seekers from other nations are treated. For one, up to mid-April Title 42The Trump administration’s March 2020 policy of banning all but a few asylum seekers from the United States, was enacted to curb the spread of COVID. “Title 42 gave CBP discretion, but was used to deny entry to almost everyone wanting to apply for asylum,” Cline said. “This changed when Ukrainians began to arrive and the government announced that Title 42 was being waived for them.”
Cline says that the Ukrainians are treated differently than other people, and it has a devastating effect on people from other countries. “Of course, Ukrainians should be welcomed into the U.S. and given the opportunity to apply for asylum,” she said. “It’s horrifying to see this war of aggression, but there are non-white people from other countries — including Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Somalia — who have been waiting at the border to apply for asylum for more than two years. They need protection, too.”
Cline also notes other disparities. CBP is allowing whole Ukrainian families to enter the U.S. together. This is something that is often denied people from other countries. She describes how she helped a man from Haiti with HIV who was travelling with his nieces, nephews, and nephew. “When we got him to the port of entry, he was approved for admission but his family members were not,” Cline said. “I’ve seen this brutality repeatedly. We’ve seen kids ripped from a grandmother’s arms, allowed to enter with their mom while grandma and an aunt are denied. It’s heartbreaking. Everyone in the household was subject to the same trauma that brought them here. It’s simply cruel to let some people in and not others.”
Jessica Bolter, policy analyst at The Migration Policy Institute, attributes the U.S.’s favoring of Ukrainians to a lingering Cold War residue. “U.S. decisions about who wins asylum cases have been deeply political for decades,” she said. “There are still echoes of Cold War thinking in the asylum system, so people fleeing countries that were once communist still have an increased chance of being admitted. The Ukrainian asylum grant rate was 66% even before the Russian invasion. It was 77% for Russians. This is much higher than it is for people of other nationalities.”
There are many advocates who recommend that this be changed and that refugees from Ukraine be treated better.
Naomi Steinberg, vice-president of U.S. Policy and Advocacy HIASThe Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, believes that family reunification should be the cornerstone of the U.S. response in the refugee crisis. While many Ukrainians will opt to stay in Europe until the crisis ends, she says, “there is a subset for whom staying in Europe is not the best option. People who have family in the U.S. should be allowed to enter through an expanded refugee resettlement program, rather than given humanitarian parole.” This is preferable, she says, because those entering through refugee resettlement, “are automatically eligible for a green card in a year. They are also eligible to receive resettlement services. Humanitarian parole requires them to apply for asylum, a process that is complicated.”
Similarly, Steinberg recognizes that while TPS gives people “some breathing room,” like humanitarian parole, it has to be renewed. People often need legal counsel, which can prove costly, to be successful, she says.
Other roadblocks and bureaucratic snafus — a result of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies — are also becoming increasingly apparent. Advocates say that by the time Donald Trump left office, the country’s resettlement programs were in shambles and the Biden administration has still not done what’s neededTo get things back on track.
Kelly Agnew-Barajas, director of refugee resettlement at Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York, describes overwhelmed advocates who are trying to reopen the 320 local refugee resettlement agencies that were shuttered in 2018 following Trump’s slashing of the annual refugee quota from 110,000 in 2017 to 15,000 in 2020.
Agnew-Barajas argues that the current crisis has been exacerbated by this lack of infrastructure. She is happy that at least some Ukrainians, and a smaller number Russians and Belarusians, are being paroled in. She emphasizes that there was a significant processing holdup before Ukrainians started to arrive in the U.S.
“The 76,000 Afghan refugees admitted to the country in 2021 have still not been fully resettled,” Agnew-Barajas told Truthout. “There is a lot of nervousness in the advocacy community because 5,000 additional Afghans will be arriving before September. This is on top the regular flow of immigrants from other nations. It has been very difficult for Afghans to arrive. We need to plan ahead for Ukrainian arrivals. We need resources and emergency supplies.”
Stacy Caplow, a Brooklyn Law School associate professor of experiential education, agrees. She says that the urgency of the situation is reflected in the fact that refugees from all over the globe are still waiting to be resettled.
She also noted that humanitarian parole holders are at an advantage. “If you are already in the U.S., you can apply for asylum and go through the adjudication system. You must go to court to see a judge, who will determine if you are eligible for admission under the law. It usually takes a long time, but if there is the will, the time can be shortened,” Caplow said. This was done to Afghan evacuees. Others, in refugee camps in places like Kenya, “have been waiting for 10 years to begin the process.”