Lawmakers Call on Biden to Cut Red Tape on Ukraine Refugees

Lawmakers Call on Biden to Cut Red Tape on Ukraine Refugees Lawmakers Call on Biden to Cut Red Tape on Ukraine Refugees Ukrainians who are seeking asylum walk at the El Chaparral port of entry on their way to enter the United States, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on April 7, 2022 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Mario Tama/Getty)

By Eric Mack | Thursday, 07 April 2022 12:23 PM

Lawmakers are hoping to help expedite a gummed-up process of accepting Ukrainian refugees amid Russia's invasion.

"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," a letter from 65 lawmakers to President Joe Biden reads, The Washington Post reports.

Among the bipartisan signatories 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.

Nearly 10% of the Ukraine population (around 4 million, mostly women, children, and elderly) have been recorded as official refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Biden administration has been under criticism worldwide for vowing to take in 100,000 refugees, but having been slow to do so, according to reports.

Refugee protection status in the U.S. requires months if not years due to background checks and processing paperwork, according to the Post, but some are heading to Mexico to merely cross into the U.S. at the porous southern border, The Associated Press reported.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said an "expedited process" is coming "soon" from the administration.

Thus far the Biden administration has granted Ukrainian refugees temporary protected status (TPS), permitting an 18 month stay for those who arrived before March 1, according to the Post.

But thousands have arrived since, including 3,000 across the Mexican border in the past week alone, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Doggett said his letter to Biden "is about easing their burdens through reasonable actions that the administration should undertake promptly," the Post reported.

"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 wrote in a statement. "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 100,000 Ukrainians seeking refuge."

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arriving daily have a message for family and friends in Europe: the fastest route to settle in the United States is booking a flight to Mexico.

A loose volunteer coalition, largely from Slavic churches in the western United States, is guiding hundreds of refugees daily from the airport in the Mexican border city of Tijuana to hotels, churches and shelters, where they wait 2 to 4 days for U.S officials to admit them on humanitarian parole. In less than two weeks, volunteers worked with U.S. and Mexican officials to build a remarkably efficient and expanding network to provide food, security, transportation, and shelter.

About 200 to 300 Ukrainians were being admitted daily at the San Ysidro crossing this week, with hundreds more arriving in Tijuana, according to volunteers who manage the waiting list. There were 973 families or single adults waiting on Tuesday.

U.S officials told volunteers they aim to admit about 550 Ukrainians daily as processing moves to a nearby crossing that is temporarily closed to the public. CBP did not provide numbers in response to questions about operations and plans, saying only that it has expanded facilities in San Diego to deal with humanitarian cases.

"We realized we had a problem that the government wasn't going to solve, so we solved it," said Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, where about 75 members host Ukrainian families and another 100 refugees sleep on air mattresses and pews.

Metzger, whose pastoral work has taken him to Ukraine and Hungary, calls the operation "duct tape and glue” but refugees prefer it to overwhelmed European countries, where millions of Ukrainians have settled.

The administration set a refugee resettlement cap of 125,000 in the 12-month period that ends Sept. 30 but accepted only 8,758 by March 31, including 704 Ukrainians. In the previous year, it capped refugee resettlement at 62,500 but took only 11,411, including 803 Ukrainians.

The administration paroled more than 76,000 Afghans through U.S. airports in response to the departure of American troops last year, but nothing similar is afoot for Ukrainians.

Information from AP was used in this report.

Original Article