WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced a new program Thursday that will expedite 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 financially support them.
“This program will be fast, it will be streamlined, and it will ensure the United States honors its commitment to the people of Ukraine, and that they need not go through our southern border,” Biden said Thursday at the White House.
Biden unveiled the new refugee sponsorship program as part of a broader slate of assistance for Ukrainians as they fend off a brutal Russian assault. He also announced $1.3 billion in new military hardware and direct government aid.
The “Uniting for Ukraine” program will be centered around 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 will go live on Monday.
In order to be eligible for the expedited process, Ukrainians must have lived in Ukraine as of Feb. 11. They must also undergo vaccinations, biometric screening and background checks before being granted admission.
In March, Biden pledged that the United States would accept as many as 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. But until now, no one has provided specific instructions on how they should enter.
Lacking an official pathway for entry, thousands of Ukrainians flew to Mexico and arrived at the U.S. borders in person, where they were granted entry under a special refugee status.
Since late March, Ukrainians have been exempted from Title 42, the pandemic-era immigration rule that requires Customs and Border Protection to expel asylum seekers rather than let them into the United States 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 who were detained in February. The vast majority of those detained were later allowed into the country.
Starting Monday, when the “Uniting for Ukraine” portal is expected to launch, Ukrainians who present themselves at the border will be turned away and told to go to the website, according to the DHS fact sheet.
This abrupt policy shift, from admitting Ukrainians to turning them away, could leave hundreds of Ukrainians who are already at or near the U.S.-Mexico border stranded.
The United Nations estimates that more than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, the vast majority of them women and children.