Biden’s Uniting for Ukraine program a start, say faith-based refugee agencies

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(RNS) — Leaders of faith-based US refugee resettlement agencies express mixed feelings about President Joe Biden’s plan to simplify entry into the United States for Ukrainians fleeing war in their country.

At a press conference Thursday (April 21)John Slocum, executive director of the Refugee Council USA, described the response from refugee resettlement agencies as “Yes, and.”

Under the new White House program announced that morning, Uniting for Ukraine, Ukrainians can enter the United States on humanitarian parole for up to two years. Parolees must have a sponsor in the United States, meet vaccination requirements, and pass rigorous screening and security checks.

U.S.-based individuals and entities, meanwhile, can apply to the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor Ukrainian citizens beginning Monday.


RELATED: Polish Catholic community hosts Ukrainian refugees as US agencies call for action


As the program offers a “glimmer of hope” to Ukrainians, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said in a written statementit does not offer the same benefits to parolees as refugee status, including a path to permanent citizenship for those who cannot return to the country.

She also expressed concern about asking sponsors to take financial responsibility for parolees, saying, “We are disappointed to see the administration outsourcing its moral obligation to support newly arrived Ukrainians.”

Thursday’s announcement comes after Biden last month pledged to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia first invaded its neighbor on February 24. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Refugee Council USA is a coalition of nine agencies committed to resettling refugees in the United States and other organizations. Of the nine, six agencies are linked to faith groups: LIRS, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and World Relief.

Refugee women with children walk to board transport at the Central Railway Station in Warsaw, Poland, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Some coalition members saw Uniting for Ukraine as proof that the United States is capable of responding to crises and urged the government to extend more flexible rules to other groups fleeing conflict around the world, including those who leave Afghanistan.

“This announcement demonstrates that the administration has the creative ability to use U.S. asylum and refugee programs to help vulnerable populations around the world,” said Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, at Religion News Service.

“The United States should more consistently apply the principles of protection to help not only Ukrainians, but also others who need asylum and protection.”

Uniting for Ukraine will also expand U.S. resettlement operations in Europe to expedite nonimmigrant visas or resettle Ukrainian refugees under the existing Lautenberg Program, which allows legal residents of the United States to sponsor family members. belonging to religious minorities. Since Ukraine is predominantly Orthodox Christian, this designation includes Pentecostals, Baptists, and Evangelical Christians.

The new policy means that Ukrainians passing through Mexico or other entry points without a valid visa or prior authorization to travel will no longer be admitted.


RELATED: How to help Ukrainians today: Organizations that provide aid


National reporter Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.

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