The White House on Thursday announced plans to resettle up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the U.S., promising to use “the full range of legal pathways” to facilitate the process amid the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The administration said it would focus primarily on those with family members already living in the U.S.
Senior administration officials told reporters Thursday the government would especially try to help vulnerable groups, including LGBTQ individuals, people with medical needs, journalists and dissidents.
“By opening our country to these individuals, we will help relieve some of the pressure on the European host countries that are currently shouldering so much of the responsibilities for what is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War,” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The news came as part of a broader announcement on U.S. humanitarian commitments in Ukraine, including more than $1 billion in new funding, unveiled during President Joe Biden’s overseas trip.
Biden has faced growing calls from Democratic lawmakers to help Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, which has so far resulted in more than 2,500 civilian casualties and forced more than 10 million people to leave their homes.
In a letter to the White House released Wednesday evening, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., urged Biden to accelerate resettlement for Ukrainians who have family in the U.S.
He also called for a “robust humanitarian parole program” that would allow vulnerable Ukrainians to enter the country without visas. Traditional refugee resettlement can take years, as can visa processing for those seeking other immigration pathways in the U.S.
The White House announcement did not say specifically whether humanitarian parole, which was used extensively to offer relief to Afghan evacuees last summer, would be employed for Ukrainian relief as well.
“Offering refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the war will be another powerful demonstration of U.S. commitment to the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom in the face of Putin’s illegal and unjustified invasion,” Menendez said.
Refugee advocates who had pressed the administration to make a more concerted effort to help Ukrainians praised Thursday’s announcement, even as they acknowledged most people displaced by the conflict are expected to remain in Europe.
“While many may wish to remain close to Ukraine, the sheer scale of displacement requires a coordinated global effort in which every able country pulls its weight,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the resettlement group Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Earlier this month, the White House announced it would designate Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status, allowing Ukrainians currently in the U.S. to remain for 18 months without fear of deportation. The designation, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates could affect 75,000 people, mostly applies to Ukrainians on temporary visas, including student and tourist visas.