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Ukrainian refugees get exemption from Trump-era border lockdown, memo says

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have used Title 42 to rapidly remove migrants encountered by Border Patrol agents from the US on public health grounds

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Thursday 17 March 2022 21:22 GMT
Ukrainian refugees take shelter at Polish train stations as they flee war

The Biden administration is letting US border agents exempt Ukrainian refugees from the Trump-era policy that has kept most South and Central American migrants from seeking asylum since March 2020.

An 11 March Customs and Border Protection (CBP) memorandum authorises officers, on a “case-by-case basis,” to exempt Ukrainian nationals who arrive at US land border crossings from expulsion under a provision of US law — known as Title 42 — which both the Trump and Biden administrations have used to rapidly remove migrants encountered by Border Patrol agents from the US on public health grounds, specifically to prevent spread of Covid-19.

“The Department of Homeland Security recognises that the unjustified Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has created a humanitarian crisis,” wrote Matthew Davies, the Customs and Border Protection director for admissibility and passenger programs.

“Non-citizens who are in possession of a valid Ukrainian passport or other valid Ukrainian identity document, and absent risk factors associated with national security or public safety, may be considered for exception from Title 42 under this guidance”.

The Centers for Disease Control — the agency responsible for issuing the public health order invoking the Trump-era migrant ban – recently relaxed its own criteria to exempt unaccompanied, non-citizen children from expulsion, but immigration advocates and activists have been pressuring the White House to lift the expulsion order entirely.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has plunged Europe into the worst refugee crisis it has seen since the close of the Second World War.

According to the United Nations, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country to avoid the death and destruction inflicted by Russian forces since the invasion began last month.

While US President Joe Biden has vowed to welcome Ukrainian refugees “with open arms,” thus far the United States has not been a major destination for Ukrainians, the vast majority of whom have fled via land crossings to neighbouring countries such as Poland.

But according to Newsweek, those few who’ve fled to the US from Ukraine have found themselves in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention, and several Ukrainians who have fled to Mexico in hopes of crossing into the United States by land said they were unaware of whether they’d be summarily expelled from the country upon arrival.

The Independent has contacted the State Department for information on how many Ukrainian refugees have entered the US since the start of Russia’s invasion, but did not receive a reply before this article was published.

Asked about the dearth of Ukrainian refugees entering the US at a press briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden is “willing” and “happy” to receive Ukrainian refugees, but stressed that administration’s response to the refugee crisis — including allocation of the $4bn in aid authorised by Congress earlier this week — has been focused on providing “humanitarian assistance” to support the millions who’ve fled to neighbouring countries.

She added that because the “vast, vast majority of refugees” fleeing Ukraine wish to remain in Europe, that is where the US government’s attention has been thus far.

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