Left-leaning advocates are enraged at the idea of prioritizing these asylum seekers over those from Africa or Central America. But these people are running from the Devil.
That is where hundreds of Ukrainians are lining up to seek asylum in the United States. Traveling halfway around the world, these battered and bruised souls have come to Americas backdoor looking for safe haven.
Some of these people may have come to accept the invitation of the glorious lady in New York Harbor who has, since 1883, told the world to send your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Others may just want to take cover from the storm while they plan their next move. Still others may simply crave the safety and stability of being with family and friends in the United States.
Given the trauma that theyve suffered over the last three weeks, you had better believe Ukrainians have a yearning to breathe free. Or to breathe at all. According to the latest estimates by the United Nations, more than 3.3 million of them have fled their homeland since the Russian invasion.
But this past week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a directive that was steeped in so much compassion and common sense that, for a moment, I thought it came from another Cabinet department.
On Thursday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that the goal of the directive was to remind Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that they have the discretion to exempt certain migrants from Title 42. That expulsion policy was first implemented under the Trump administration, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but has been preserved by the Biden administrationto the rage of advocates for migrants from Mexico and Central America.
The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that the unjustified Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has created a humanitarian crisis, the memo reads.
Bravo. The DHS is finally using its power for good. This is exactly the right thing to do, and precisely the right time to do it.
Having said that, Ukrainian refugees are a special case. Theyve survived a special conflict that has captured the attention of the entire world. And so they deserve special treatment. These people are squeezed between two global superpowers who could be on the brink of World War III.
And then there is what theyre running from. Theyre not trying to escape poverty, hurricanes, floods, or street gangs. These people are fleeing pure evil, which has taken the form of Russian President Vladmir Putin.
America has done this before, putting our adversaries on edge by giving a preference to asylum seekers from Cuba in the 1960s, Russia in the 1970s, and Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Imagine the message that America sends to the world by welcoming Ukrainian refugees with open arms: Vladimir Putin tried to kill these people, and were giving them a new life. Whereas Putin saw these people as an annoyance, we see them as a national asset.
Besides, at a time when people around the world are celebrating the courage of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, we should give this modern day David the peace of mind that comes from knowing that his people are in a safe space so he can continue to fight Goliath.
In fact, for the last two weeks, Ive been thinking that the United States ought to put as many as 100,000 Ukrainians in a special lane and fast-track their applications for asylum.
The DHS directive didnt go nearly that far. While a step in the right direction, it is still only, at best, a baby step. The memo advises U.S. immigration agents at the border only that they may consider exempting Ukrainian citizens from the restrictions of Title 42. It doesnt give them a direct order to do so. And in theory, at least, they could offer the same exemption for migrants from anywhere else.
Nonetheless, the policy change should be seen as a win. Sure, it doesnt go far enough. But its not nothing.
Once exempted from Title 42, its possible that Ukrainian refugees could have their asylum claims assessed on a case-by-case basis after being granted one year of humanitarian parole. That accommodation allows individuals to live and work legally in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Given the dire straits these folks were in just a few weeks ago, thats huge.
Of course, Americans are going to complain. Thats what we do. Our #1 export these days is whine.
Those on the right might say our asylum system is overwhelmed and the Ukrainians should have stayed in Europeand not just show up at the U.S.-Mexico border. Those on the left will accuse Uncle Sam of favoritism toward white Ukrainians and demand similar accommodations for refugees from other countries facing their own bloody conflicts.
These charges of racism and double standards are not entirely without merit. Indeed, the hypocrisy of European countries inviting people from this conflict after being far less welcoming to refugees from Africa and the Middle Eastis on display right now.
Be that as it may, this policy change by DHS is still a no-brainer. As we have learned in the last three weeks, this is an extremely complicated and perilous world. Actions can have catastrophic consequences, and the leaders of mighty nations can feel powerless. There is, we are warned, a lot that we cannot do without starting World War III.
As we proved during the pandemic, Americans dont do powerless well. At present, many of us are mired in angst because we dont know how to go about doing what we want to do: help Ukraine and hamper Russia.
There is a relatively easy way that we can do both these things: We can fast- track those Ukrainian refugees who are, as we speak, lining up at the U.S.- Mexico border and seeking safe-haven in the United States.
This is not a perfect solution. But take a good look at whats happening in Ukraine. Perfect was taken off the menu weeks ago. All thats left is a few servings of good enough.
Americans are decent people. And so, because of Russias brutal invasion, many of us are understandably filled with sorrow and rage. For me, when I think of Russian planes dropping bombs on a theater that offered shelter to children and turning it to rubble, it is mostly rage.
Its hard to know what the United States can do. But it can do this much. It can welcome Ukrainian refugees.
Its not the best we can do, but it is the very least.