A Biden administration that has promised to accept 100,000 Ukrainian war refugees into the United States has shared few details of its plans, even as people fleeing Russian terror arrive in Philadelphia alone.
Two women from kyiv live in the presbytery of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Northern Liberties. A mother and her three children have found safety with friends in Mount Airy. A Ukrainian priest, his wife and their four young sons could soon arrive.
While details are scarce, interviews with members of Congress, resettlement agency officials, immigration experts and Ukrainian community leaders provide insight into how this massive immigration operation could take shape. :
⋅ There is no indication that the Biden administration will undertake a full-scale evacuation of the area, accompanied by the provision of temporary housing at US military installations. This is how the government quickly brought 76,000 Afghan nationals into the country last year.
⋅ The Ukrainians will not all arrive at once. They will probably come to this country over the course of more than a year.
⋅ Philadelphia is expected to be a major arrival and resettlement city, due to the size and strength of its Ukrainian community.
“I think people are ready for anything. [to help]said Mary Kalyna, a Ukrainian-American activist in Mount Airy who has organized rallies, vigils and fundraisers. “People constantly ask me, even non-Ukrainians, even my neighbors say, ‘I have this extra room, do you need it?'”
The Biden administration says it will focus on admitting Ukrainians who have family ties to that country. And that it will use multiple immigration processes and authorities to do so, including the US refugee admissions program.
This is important because those admitted as official, legal refugees have immediate access to government benefits and a clear path to U.S. citizenship. The future of people entering on visas or through programs such as humanitarian parole, which has been used for most Afghan wartime allies, is far less certain.
The administration also said it was working to develop “new programs” focused on “immediate and temporary stay,” believing that most Ukrainians will eventually want to return home.
“We have an incredible and vibrant Ukrainian community with very deep roots, with very established businesses and owners,” said Gretchen Shanfeld, senior director of program operations at the Nationalities Service Center, a major resettlement agency in the city. . “We’ve already had conversations about what they can help with – housing being paramount.”
The number of refugees who may come to the Philadelphia area is unknown. Much will be dictated by the capacity of local resettlement agencies and the amount of housing available.
Newcomers would find an embrace in a brawny Ukrainian community.
About 15,245 Ukrainian immigrants live in Philadelphia and surrounding suburban and southern Jersey counties, along with 54,324 people of Ukrainian ancestry. Over the decades, they built institutions such as the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, the Ukrainian League of Philadelphia in Fairmount, and the Ukrainian Selfdependence Federal Credit Union in Feasterville, not to mention Manor College, founded by a religious order. Ukrainian in 1947.
Ukrainian communities in New York, Ohio and California are also expected to see a number of arrivals.
“This is exactly the kind of thing the United States needs to do and need to stand up for,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, whose 4th congressional district includes Ukrainian enclaves in Jenkintown, Abington and Bridgeport.
Every day people call his office asking for help for family members who have fled to Poland and Moldova. Beyond this official help, she is ready to offer a guest room in her house in Bala Cynwyd to a newcomer.
This 100,000 is both a small and a large number.
That’s more than the 67,594 that populate Lincoln Financial Field for Eagles games. That’s less than filling Beaver Stadium at Pennsylvania State University. This is almost nothing compared to the 4.4 million Ukrainians who have fled their homeland to neighboring countries.
But for the US refugee program, 100,000 is a giant number, one that would approach or surpass the two largest resettlements of the past half-century.
The fall of Saigon in 1975 ended the American war in Vietnam and sent thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. In the first year, the Ford administration resettled 130,000 people, many of whom passed through Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania.
Last year, the withdrawal of US forces prompted a chaotic airlift from Kabul that brought 76,000 Afghan nationals to the United States, where they continue to be resettled.
Those 100,000 are also nine times the number of refugees who were resettled in 2021, when the United States admitted a record 11,411.
A shrunken system that was forced to run at full speed during the Afghan evacuation – a third of the country’s 300 resettlement agencies have closed or suspended operations amid falling numbers of arrivals – will be pressured to do so. do again.
What will it take to accept 100,000 people?
“It’s very simple,” said Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which would help Ukrainian arrivals. “What is needed is either personnel, for treatment, or streamlining of treatment.”
And right now, she noted, the US government has neither.
Part of the Trump administration’s decimation of the refugee admissions system has been the winnowing of foreign personnel who screen refugees. This introduced another delay into an already slow system. It can take five years or more for a refugee to be allowed to come to the United States.
Another option, Miller-Wilson said, is to implement a new, faster system that would streamline the admissions and resettlement process.
Almost all of the refugees coming to the United States will be women and children, as Ukraine has banned men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country.
“What is happening in Ukraine is one of the greatest tragedies the modern world has ever seen,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who represents a large Ukrainian American community in northern New York’s 9th congressional district. Jersey.
The 100,000 is a good start, but “I think we can do even better after years of neglecting refugees,” Pascrell said. “America has a fundamental responsibility to welcome citizens fleeing war and organized murder.”
It’s unclear whether the Biden administration intends to dedicate new funds to Ukrainian refugees or shift resources from existing programs, said Danilo Zak, policy and advocacy manager at the National Immigration Forum in Washington. The latter could mean that refugees who have already waited years to come to this country could be pushed further down the line.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a large Baltimore-based resettlement agency, has already begun recruiting volunteers to handle airport transfers and arrange apartments. But like other agencies, it needs specific information from the White House.
“More than a month after Putin’s invasion, there must be a plan beyond the press release,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of LIRS. “We hear daily from Ukrainian Americans wanting to help bring their families here and take care of them.”
Consider, Vignarajah said, how Ukrainian lives have been shattered by death and destruction. For refugees, the need for mental health and trauma care will be significant and immediate. Children will need to be in school, to regain not only the missed education, but a sense of normalcy. Last but not least, newcomers will need accommodation in a country where prices are high and stock is low.
“We need to be creative,” Vignarajah said, “about how to ensure that every Ukrainian refugee has a roof over their head.”