With European nations under stress from three million new refugees, the United States said it would substantially increase admissions of people fleeing Russia’s invasion.
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Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and
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BRUSSELS — Bowing to domestic and international pressure, President Biden said on Thursday the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine and donate $1 billion to help European countries facing a humanitarian crisis not seen on the continent since the end of World War II.
The announcement came as countries scrambling to house and provide services to millions of Ukrainian refugees have sought assistance from the United States, which is already absorbing thousands of people evacuated from Afghanistan.
“This is not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own,” Mr. Biden said during a news briefing in Brussels. “This is an international responsibility.”
The war in Ukraine has displaced millions of people in a matter of weeks as Russian forces bombard cities and towns, leaving much of the country without power, heat and water. Mr. Biden’s announcement significantly increases the role of the United States in trying to mitigate the crisis.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said they expected that most Ukrainian refugees would want to stay in Europe, close to their homes and adult male family members, who have been prohibited from leaving the country. So far, some three million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. But millions more have been internally displaced and may also need to find safe haven in other countries.
White House officials said that the refugees would be received through “the full range of legal pathways,” including the U.S. refugee admissions program, which leads to permanent residence, or a green card. Others may be granted visas or “humanitarian parole,” a temporary form of entry offered to displaced people in wartime and other emergencies.
The initiative would focus on Ukrainians who have family members in the United States. However, the United States is not considering airlifting Ukrainians into the country, as it did during the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, White House officials said.
Mr. Biden’s announcement won praise from some immigration advocates, as well as Ukrainians still in Europe seeking refuge. Oleksandr Berezhnyi, a 32-year-old stuck in Bucha, Ukraine, hoped it would increase the chances for his pregnant wife and 4-year-old daughter to resettle in the United States. They fled to Slovakia weeks ago and have family in New Jersey.
“There is nothing left for them other than now looking at this new program,” Mr. Berenzhnyi said through a translator in a phone interview on Thursday.
But welcoming thousands of new refugees when the administration is still struggling to process tens of thousands of Afghans through an underresourced immigration system will not be easy. Deciding how many vulnerable immigrants — and from which countries — the United States should accept has been a constant political struggle for Mr. Biden, particularly at the southwest border, where officials have encountered more than 13,000 migrants a day in recent weeks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
While there is mostly bipartisan support for welcoming Afghan and Ukrainian refugees escaping war, migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing poverty and violence have received far less sympathy. And many Republicans criticized efforts to welcome nearly 21,000 refugees from Syria from 2015 through 2018.
“Without a doubt, we need to resettle large numbers of Ukrainians through various means, but I hope our commitment to Ukrainians also deepens our commitment to other groups of refugees who are in need of protection,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, one of the nonprofits contracted by the government to help resettle refugees.
About 75,000 Afghans have been brought in through the humanitarian parole program. But many of them have struggled to navigate an immigration system that U.S. officials concede was unprepared to help them. They contend with years of interviews and red tape, and while they have been granted work authorization, they cannot apply for a green card or bring in spouses or children left behind. Thousands remain parked in a handful of American-run processing centers overseas, waiting to come to the United States.
“Right now Ukraine’s people can go freely to European countries, but where do we flee?” said Najeeb, a former interpreter for U.S. forces for five years who preferred to go by his first name for fear of retribution.
Some refugee experts also feared that the administration would not have an efficient long-term plan for the Ukrainian families who are allowed into the United States. Even when the refugee resettlement system is working smoothly, it is not designed to provide immediate relief during emergencies. It takes several years for people to be admitted, a process that requires interviews, medical exams and background checks.
It also takes many years for family members sponsored by green card holders or American citizens to be approved.
But with the devastation being wrought on Ukraine under the Russian bombardment, it is unlikely that many of those seeking refuge in the United States would be able to return home anytime soon.
Some Ukrainians may be offered humanitarian parole, like the Afghan evacuees. But that does not open a direct path to legal residency, since it is intended for temporary stays. In order to stay permanently, those refugees would have to apply for asylum, which involves navigating a system that is badly overstretched already.
A new phase of the war. Russia declared that its offensive for control over Ukraine’s industrial heartland was underway as it bombarded targets across the sprawling eastern front. Ukrainian officials said they were mounting a spirited defense.
In Mariupol. About 2,000 people were trapped at a large steel factory in Mariupol along with Ukrainian forces that are waging what appears to be the last defense of the city. Russia is seeking to take the city as part of a strategically important “land bridge” to occupied Crimea.
Possible banned weapons. Based on evidence reviewed by The Times, it is likely that Ukrainian troops used cluster munitions in an eastern village that they were attempting to retake from Russian forces. The weapons are banned by many countries for the harm they can cause to civilians.
Russia’s economy. While President Vladimir V. Putin boasted that the Russian economy is holding up under Western sanctions, his central bank chief warned that the consequences were only beginning to be felt, and Moscow’s mayor said that 200,000 jobs are at risk in the capital alone.
“We welcome the administration’s announcement, but we hope the United States commits to admitting Ukrainians in a permanent legal status so that they regain some control over their lives,” said Melanie Nezer, a senior vice president at HIAS, another resettlement agency.
“By definition, we are talking about many people with family and support networks here,” she said.
The United States is home to about a million people of Ukrainian descent, with substantial communities in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Washington State. Thousands are evangelical Christians who began arriving in the 1990s, after Congress passed a law allowing persecuted religious minorities to come to the United States as refugees. The early arrivals have continued to sponsor relatives to join them, and about 7,000 were in the pipeline before the Russian invasion.
The administration has faced intensifying pressure to help those fleeing Ukraine, including from European allies assisting most of the refugees.
In Europe, Poland, Moldova and Romania have opened makeshift shelters to accommodate displaced Ukrainians. The European Union earlier this month enacted the Temporary Protection Directive, a collective protection for Ukrainian refugees that allows them to remain in the region for a year, with the possibility of extension.
Outside the European Union, Britain and Canada have created private sponsorship programs.
There also has been growing support in the United States for helping Ukrainians. Human rights groups, American citizens and the Slavic immigrant community have been clamoring to take in refugees, and websites have been matching willing hosts with Ukrainian families. But without official approval, only those with U.S. tourist or business visas can legally enter the country.
Hundreds of Ukrainians have resorted to taking roundabout journeys to Mexico and crossing the southern border into the United States, where they are seeking the same protection as migrants from Central America and other nations. From there, they are placed in deportation proceedings, and some adults have been held in immigration detention facilities for weeks before being released. Those with sponsors in the United States who agree to provide housing and support are permitted to travel onward to cities across the country.
U.S. consular offices in Europe, meanwhile, are inundated with applications, and securing any visas now has become extremely difficult, because applicants must prove they do not intend to stay. Tim Skripkin, a 35-year-old from Dallas, Texas, said his family has tried calling the State Department and embassies overseas for weeks to get his 60-year-old mother law out of Ukraine.
He said Mr. Biden’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians, when millions have fled the Russian assault, gave him little hope.
“It’s basically a drop in the bucket,” Mr. Skripkin said, adding that he planned to travel to Ukraine in the coming weeks to escort his mother-in-law to Poland. “These people are not asking for help, they need the help because they were forced into this situation.”
Miriam Jordan reported from Los Angeles, Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington, and Michael D. Shear from Brussels. Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting from Washington, Christina Goldbaum from Dubai, and Najim Rahim from Houston. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.