U.S. immigration policy is often intertwined with U.S. foreign policy. Our diplomatic activities and even our failures overseas can have devastating effects on how immigration laws are implemented, and in turn, how we are remembered for acting during times of crisis.
We all watched as Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Almost immediately, millions of refugees began the frightful journey across whichever border they could to save their lives. Despite constant declarations of support for Ukraine and its citizens, it took almost 2 weeks for the U.S. Administration to give Ukrainian citizens Temporary Protected Status, TPS, with a caveat – they had to have been in the U.S. as of March 1st, 2022. It is not exactly clear to me why folks who got out, say, on March 2nd should not be afforded the same status.
2000 miles away, the United States withdrew its forces from Afghanistan on August 31st, 2021, a date that was known months in advance A mass of humanity was already trying to leave the country as the Taliban encroached. Yet, there appeared to be no plan on how to address the need of this expected exodus. We were told that Afghans whose lives were in danger would be evacuated and considered for a humanitarian parole into the U.S. According to Voice of America, however, while the Biden Administration has received over 40,000 applications for humanitarian parole and cashed the filing fees from Afghans who fled with often zero money, only 160 cases have been conditionally approved. For their lack of enthusiasm in processing these applications, our government cites the often used and extremely tired excuse of background checks. We all note and wonder about there still not being a TPS designation for citizens of Afghanistan (Editor’s note, on March 16, 2022, the day after this piece was published, the DHS Secretary designated Afghanistan for TPS)
In our own backyard in July 2021, Haiti’s president was assassinated and turmoil in the natural disaster-ravaged country ensued. In desperation, thousands of Haitians sought refuge at the U.S./Mexico border. Under the guise of Title 42 and COVID, the Biden Administration has deported nearly 21,000 Haitians from the U.S. since February 1, 2021, in addition to the more than 212,000 who were stopped from entering by the CBP.
It is a tragedy that in 2021, the Biden administration admitted just 11,411 refugees globally – not even close to its own stated goal of 62,500. It should never be lost on us that among the many horrors of WWII era was when in 1939, just before the war began, the U.S. turned away the St. Louis – a ship filled with Jewish refugees. A third of those passengers would perish in Hitler’s Europe.
While America has not lived up to our ideals, thankfully, other countries have stepped up. Iran and Pakistan host about 90% of the 2 million Afghan refugees. In just over a week, Poland is graciously hosting more than a million Ukrainian refugees – mostly children – while other countries are aggressively providing similar accommodations. Haitian refugees are scattered mostly in camps throughout South America, but not in the United States.
The shame that is St. Louis is a permanent stain on our history. It should serve as our guiding light as we navigate what looks like a more polarized world with people fleeing various tyrannies of today for the free future they see within our shores. “‘Refugees’ are defined as persons forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. This definition aptly applies to people of Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Haiti among others. We must end the discriminatory treatment of refugees. All they really need is our welcome.
If you want to hear more information about entry and special immigrant programs, you can attend a cutting-edge session entitled “Global Migration in Times of Conflict: How Nation States Have Responded to the Ukraine Crisis.” This special session is being added to the 2022 AILA Border Issues Virtual Conference. AILA’s Global Migration Section is organizing the presentation and will draw heavily from their Ukraine Project.