As the travesty of the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to play out, their refugees are pouring out into other countries. Naturally, the beacon of freedom that is the U.S. is calling many to come to our shores looking for refugee status. Many are showing up without any paperwork or proof of who they are. Given the timetable for them to leave their homes and the number of sudden moves most of them have made, this is not surprising.
Unlike the refugees already at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Ukrainians are being given a bump in the pecking order to get them processed. They aren’t illegally storming the border and being caught, either. They are turning up at centers from crossing and pleading their case. Between February 1st and April 6th, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported 9,926 Ukrainians who lacked paperwork and needed to get into the US. On just April 6th CBP reported 767 of those refugees.
This is a substantial increase over the past few weeks. In that same timeframe, 41,074 legal entries of Ukrainians were reported by CBP. These people came with prior permission to enter the U.S. on visas for tourism, short-term travel, or had previously arrangements to reside in the U.S. permanently.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurned the largest displacement of people since WWII. With 4.4 million Ukrainians leaving for other countries, the vast majority have remained in Europe where many have families – and others find that the change will be easier to withstand while they await the ability to go back to their beloved home. A day that many refugees fear will never come.
Even if they are ever able to return, they are aware that the homes they left may not be there, and if they are, life will never be the same as it was before the Russian invasion. The reports of consistent barrages of incoming air attacks from mortars and rockets have left many fearing the worst for their livelihood. The greatest fear, though, is for their families left behind, and for their military-aged men, many of whom were forced to remain behind to fight for Ukraine.
On March 24th, President Biden issued a pledge to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees but gave no timetable for when it would end. Given the unstable timetable war provides, this is a solution to the problem, but this number looks to quickly be surpassed. Especially as CBP has been given special instructions to frontload the Ukrainians and to bypass the COVID restrictions for immigrants. There is also no concrete plan to get them passports, visas, or any way of tracking their location and activities.
Given the many flights it takes to reach Mexico and, then, the U.S.-Mexico border, they are arriving tired, hungry, and poor. They have left behind everything to stay safe. They are not abandoning a country with problems they created on their own but instead fleeing to safety since their home country is unable to provide that safety. Many other immigrants claiming refugee status at the border are coming from countries not under attack by a foreign nation; they just hate what their country has become and instead of trying to fix it, they want to throw it away and bring those same ideas here.
Julia Gelatt, an analyst for the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, explains just how bad the problem is. “The fact that Ukrainians are traveling to Mexico and trying their luck at the U.S.-Mexico border as the fastest option just shows how slow and clogged up our immigration system is. We don’t really have a rapid response part of our immigration system that can create pathways for people in an emergency situation.”
There are ways to clear this up, but as Gelatt is aware, none of them are easy or cheap. We need to protect the integrity of our borders and keep our citizens safe.