Almost 10,000 Ukrainians have reached the U.S. border seeking asylum
Despite making a commitment last month to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, the Biden administration has not yet unveiled a clear plan on how Ukrainians seeking safety in the United States should arrive. With no clear path to quickly seek refuge in the United States, thousands of Ukrainians have now made their way to Mexico and are seeking asylum at ports of entry on our southern border. In an interview with CBS News last week, DHS Secretary Mayorkas stated that “close to 3,000” Ukrainians had been admitted in the previous week, and reporting today shows that almost 10,000 Ukrainians arrived at the southern border between February 1st and April 6th. During this same time there were also 41,074 “legal entries” of Ukrainians who already had visas that allowed entry into the U.S.
Volunteer-led efforts in Tijuana have provided food, shelter, and other support to the Ukrainians waiting to be processed at the border. An encampment of Ukrainian asylum seekers has grown to over 2,000 people as of last Tuesday, and volunteers have started a numbered list that functions as a makeshift type of metering for those waiting for their turn to meet with immigration officials. While most asylum seekers are still turned away under Title 42, DHS issued a memo last month allowing for CBP to make exceptions on a “case-by-case basis” for Ukrainian nationals. This allows them to be paroled into the country and to seek asylum under normal immigration law, rather than rapidly expelled.
As the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers has increased in recent weeks, there have also been instances of children taken into custody when they arrive at the border without their legal parent or guardian. U.S. law requires that children determined to be “unaccompanied” must be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) where they will be kept in government shelters until they can be reunified with family members or sponsors in the United States. As of Monday, around 20 unaccompanied Ukrainian children were being housed by ORR.
Refugee resettlement continues to be slow
Last week the refugee admissions totals were released for March, showing 2,263 arrivals for the month. Only 12 were admitted from Ukraine.
Halfway through this fiscal year, the United States has admitted 8,758 refugees. At this pace, the United States is likely to resettle fewer than 18,000 refugees this fiscal year – just 14% of the admissions cap of 125,000.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that no Afghans have been allowed through the priority refugee status implemented last summer. The program was created to provide a pathway for Afghans who are not eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa but still at risk due to U.S., humanitarian, or media ties. In order to apply, applicants would first need to leave Afghanistan and apply from a third country. Most refugee processing takes at least 2-3 years, so unless special processes were put in place to speed things up, many will likely be stuck in limbo in these third countries for some time. The U.S. government has not yet sent its officers to conduct interviews with Afghans in the program.
The low number of monthly admissions and the slow pace of processing for Afghans at risk demonstrate how urgently the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program needs support and reform. Without greater resources and staffing, it is unlikely that the U.S. government can keep its promises to offer refuge to those who need to flee urgently. Urge President Biden to make refugee resettlement a top priority here.
Political battles at the border highlight the need for bipartisan reform
Following the CDC’s order to terminate Title 42 in May, there has been an increasing political uproar about border management. Last week we shared that the attorneys general of three states had filed a lawsuit to block the termination, and later in the week Texas amended their existing lawsuit to also challenge the termination order.
Political leaders on both sides of the aisle have expressed concern that ending Title 42 would lead to increased border crossings, and a bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of Senators to delay and place stipulations on the termination. A report from the New York Times over the weekend shows how the policy has long been hotly debated even among White House staff, and it increasingly appears to be used as an immigration deterrent rather than the public health measure that it was intended to be.
With so much contention around this and other border policies, there has also been movement for leaders of both parties to come together to create bipartisan immigration reform. The Hill reported that Senators Thom Tillis and Dick Durbin are planning to begin a working group once legislators return to Capitol Hill following their current recess. The article quotes Senator Tillis indicating the need for a “four pillar discussion” focused on immigration reform, DACA, border security, and asylum reform.