Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched Uniting for Ukraine which commits to bringing 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States through humanitarian parole and an individual sponsorship model. This bypasses the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) which has resettled refugees since 1980. USRAP has always been a partnership with federally-funded benefits and services, federal and state-funded case management and job placement services provided by local resettlement agencies, and community support, like a load-bearing stool. Each element, or “leg” is critical for the stability of the program and the successful welcome of new neighbors. Uniting for Ukraine removes two legs – Ukrainians arriving through the program will not be able to access the same public benefits and services as a refugee, and refugee resettlement agencies, like Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA), will not have funding to provide case management and job placement services. In addition, as humanitarian parole is not a permanent immigration status, Ukrainians will also have the uphill battle of applying for immigration relief at a time when immigration attorneys have minimum six-month waiting lists.
Refugee resettlement has always been a private/public partnership. Removing the publicly funded services and benefits leaves Ukrainians vulnerable. Ukrainians should be made eligible for the same benefits and services as a refugee, and the capacity built by the U.S. resettlement agencies for Afghan Allies should be leveraged to serve Ukrainians. Congress must also pass an Afghan Adjustment Act and similar legislation for Ukrainians so Afghans and Ukrainians aren’t in legal limbo. In times of war and conflict, the U.S. has been a leader in welcoming those fleeing violence and war, and seeking safety. We must continue to be that safe haven, and offer durable solutions and pathways to benefits and permanent residency, not temporary bandages.