Dozens of lawmakers urge Biden to clear red tape for Ukrainian refugees

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says officials are working on an ‘expedited process’ to admit war refugees

Maria Sacchetti
Thursday 07 April 2022 17:03 BST
Pope kisses Ukrainian flag from Bucha as he welcomes refugees to Vatican

After the White House warned that the war in Ukraine is heading into a protracted new phase, a bipartisan group of lawmakers urged President Joe Biden on Wednesday to untangle red tape that is delaying the arrival of refugees, saying their “life and future” may depend on it.

Sixty-five members of Congress, mostly Democrats and a handful of Republicans, asked the president to extend temporary protected status to thousands of Ukrainians who sought refuge at the nation’s ports and borders in recent weeks, expedite immigration processing so that U.S. citizens and green-card holders can bypass the slow-moving refugee program and sponsor their relatives themselves, and waive costly application fees for people who fled, “often with little more than the clothes on their back.”

“In facing this humanitarian crisis and the devastating effects of this war, we must use every tool in our toolkit to ensure our country responds by efficiently processing eligible immigration and refugee applications, knowing that each one represents someone fleeing devastation, whose life and future may depend on how rapidly paperwork is processed,” the letter said.

Among the signers are Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Andy Harris, R-Md., Mary Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled their country, nearly a 10th of the population, mostly to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania and Moldova. The Biden administration said last month that it would take in 100,000 refugees through a variety of legal pathways including the U.S. refugee program and “humanitarian parole,” which allows people to quickly enter the country but does not provide permanent protection.

The refugee program offers permanent residency, resettlement aid and other benefits, but the process can take months or years because of required background checks and administrative backlogs. Desperate Ukrainians are increasingly catching flights to Mexico and travelling to the border to plead to be admitted temporarily.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that officials are working on an “expedited process” to admit war refugees, calling it “a different process that we’ll have more details on soon.”

But lawmakers said in the letter that the U.S. government can take administrative steps now to protect refugees.

For instance, while lawmakers praised the Biden administration for announcing that it would grant Ukrainians “temporary protected status,” allowing them to live, work and study here for 18 months, they pointed out that only those who were physically present in the United States by March 1 are eligible to apply for it.

Lawmakers said the government should instead tie the eligibility date to the announcement’s forthcoming publication in the Federal Register, which would cover the estimated thousands who arrived over the past month.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who granted Ukrainians the protection after the Russian invasion began, told CBS Evening News on Wednesday that nearly 3,000 refugees from Ukraine crossed the Mexican border into the United States last week alone.

Besides extending eligibility for TPS, the lawmakers said the White House could also beef up staffing and resources at U.S. embassies so that American citizens and green-card holders can apply to bring their immediate relatives here.

They said the U.S. government could waive thousands of dollars in immigration application fees, increase the number of embassy workers to process applications, and expand the list of physicians overseas authorized to complete the medical checks required before immigrants can travel to the United States.

Doggett, who led the effort, said in a statement that the appeal “is about easing their burdens through reasonable actions that the Administration should undertake promptly.”

“Too many Ukrainians – still shocked by their losses and with minimal resources – are entangled in bureaucratic delays that impair their ability to be united with loved ones in America,” he said. “This would prevent some from being stranded for weeks in a foreign land and allow others already here to work and go to school. And this action would give more meaning to President Biden’s commitment to admit 100000 Ukrainians seeking refuge.”

The Washington Post

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