President Joe Biden makes remarks on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the Roosevelt room of the White House, on Thursday, April 21, 2022 in Washington.
Evan Vucci | AP
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced a new program Thursday that will speed up the U.S. asylum process for Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion.
The “Unite for Ukraine” program will allow individual Americans and nonprofits to sponsor Ukrainian refugees, provided they can support them financially.
“This program will be fast, it will be streamlined, and it will ensure that the United States respects its commitment to the people of Ukraine and that they do not have to go through our southern border,” Biden said Thursday in the White House.
Biden unveiled the new refugee sponsorship program as part of a broader list of aid measures for Ukrainians as they avert a brutal Russian attack. He also announced $ 1.3 billion in new military hardware and direct state aid.
The “Uniting for Ukraine” program will be centered on a web portal through which U.S.-based individuals and groups can apply to become sponsors and upload documents, according to a fact sheet from the Department of Homeland Security. The portal goes live on Monday.
To be eligible for the expedited process, Ukrainians must have lived in their home country from 11 February. They must also undergo vaccinations, biometric screening and background checks before being admitted.
In March, Biden promised that the United States would receive as many as 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. But until now, there was no specific information on how the process would work.
Lacking an official route of entry, thousands of Ukrainians have traveled to Mexico and arrived at U.S. border crossings, where they were admitted under a special refugee status.
Ukrainians seeking asylum march against the United States on the Mexican side of El Chaparral Crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 8, 2022.
Guillermo Arias | AFP | Getty Images
Since the end of March, Ukrainians have been exempted from Section 42, the pandemic immigration rule, which requires U.S. customs and border protection to deport asylum seekers instead of letting them enter the country to wait for a hearing.
CBP reported that it detained more than 5,000 migrants from Ukraine in March, more than four times the 1,150 Ukrainians detained the previous month. The vast majority of those detained later gained access to the country.
From Monday, when the “Uniting for Ukraine” portal is expected to be launched, Ukrainians presenting themselves at border crossings will be rejected and asked to go to the website, according to the DHS fact sheet.
The abrupt political shift – from admitting Ukrainians to rejecting them – could leave hundreds of refugees already at or near the US-Mexico border stranded.
The UN estimates that more than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, the vast majority of them women and children.