Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum in the US will not be turned away, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared this week after reports emerged that border officials were using the Title 42 public health authority to refuse entry to Eastern European refugees along the southern border.
Mayorkas told reporters Thursday that his department has issued guidance reminding authorities that Ukrainian nationals “and everyone else” making so-called “credible fear” claims at the US-Mexico frontier are exempt from Title 42, which allows officials to expedite migrant expulsions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We address an individual’s claim for humanitarian relief as they are presented to us,” Mayorkas said. “We have a number of efforts already underway … to provide humanitarian relief for individuals fleeing a war-torn Ukraine. We are looking at other programs that we can implement to expand the avenues of humanitarian relief.”
Earlier this week, immigration advocates called on the administration to end Title 42 immediately as a handful of Ukranians seeking asylum were reportedly turned away when attempting to enter the US.
“It looks like there is no policy of the border because the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers are making their own rules,” San Diego-based immigration lawyer Jacob Sapochnick told The Post. “They make decisions that decide who was going to enter or who was not. And we have no idea how they determined that.”
In one case, according to Sapochnick, three individuals who left Ukraine a week after the invasion began Feb. 24 tried to cross the US-Mexico border after traveling to Mexico City and were turned away by a CBP officer. The group attempted to cross again in Arizona and was able to apply for asylum there.
“So it just tells you that you can go to different places, different ports of entry and officers will treat you differently,” the lawyer said.
While the asylum seekers were not explicitly told why they could not enter the US, Sapochnick accused border officials of using Title 42 as an “umbrella.”
“The media is saying that the US is supporting you and they’re welcoming Ukrainians, but at the same time when they actually come to the border, and they get the treatment from CBP that ‘No, you have to go back,’” he said.
Sapochnick said that his office has been handling between 12 and 22 inquiries from “mostly” Ukrainians who are “interested in coming in [to the US] or either stuck at the border.”
While the Biden administration has said they will welcome Ukrainian refugees, the immigration lawyer called on the US to take more action, including figuring out a way to identify and expedite pending family petitions.
Other nations have already begun to implement such strategies.
Since January, Canada has received around 7,400 Ukrainian nationals — including people who already had applications in the country’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) system before Russia invaded.
For future applications, the IRCC has recommended evacuees use existing pathways and add the keyword “Ukraine2022” for prioritization.
“Further to our existing pathways, IRCC has also announced two new programs to help Ukrainians. We expect that the number of arrivals will increase as these two programs are launched,” IRCC told The Post in an email.
An estimated 1.4 million people make up the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada, one of the largest in the world, and the Ottawa government says it is eager to “make it easier and faster” for evacuees to get there.
The United Kingdom has also launched programs to expedite the temporary resettlement process for Ukrainians, notably through a new visa scheme that will allow evacuees to live with a host family rent-free for between six months and three years.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC this week that there will be “no cap” on the number of refugees helped through the program.
It is unclear if the US will begin to expedite Ukrainian refugee resettlement as it did in the fall for Afghan evacuees. The Biden administration has repeatedly said that the majority of the 3.2 million Ukrainian refugees will likely wish to remain in Eastern Europe.
“We expect most displaced Ukrainians will want to stay in neighboring countries or elsewhere in the EU where they can travel visa-free, where they may have family, and where there are large diaspora communities, in the hope they can return home soon,” a State Department spokesperson told The Post, while commending Ukraine’s neighbors for keeping their borders open.
“We know the EU is working to rally support for refugees and those displaced within Ukraine. This challenge is likely to escalate in the near future, and the United States stands by to support our allies and partners as they welcome and care for people in their hour of need.”
The spokesperson noted that the Department will also work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to determine if Ukrainian nationals need to be resettled in a third country.
The administration has not revealed how many Ukrainian refugees it expects to look to resettle in the US. Earlier this month, DHS designated Ukrainians currently living in the US with Temporary Protected Status for the next 18 months.
State Department spokesman Ned Price promised on Monday that the US is willing to look “very closely” at expediting resettlement for refugees if it ends up being needed.
“We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to support refugees in neighboring countries,” Price told reporters, adding: “When it comes to the United States, we have a ceiling that is set every year. Within that ceiling, there are categories, including refugees from that part of the world. If there is a need for Ukrainian refugees to be resettled farther afield from neighboring countries, that is something that we will look at very closely.
“We have time and again, proven ourselves to be a country that welcomes refugees, that welcomes immigrants, that recognizes that there is strength in doing so, and has consistently derived strength from doing that,” he added.