As Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to rage on, the US stance on receiving Ukrainian refugees has been to do so with open arms. But the hospitable approach adopted by the US has left some immigration and human rights advocates to wonder why that same sentiment isn’t applied to asylum seekers from Central America and the Caribbean.
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The US expects to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine as a result of the country’s ongoing war with Russia. So far, about 15,000 have entered the country since the Feb. 24 invasion, mostly through Mexico.
To ensure the process of admitting Ukrainians into the US, President Joe Biden announced on Apr. 21 the “Uniting for Ukraine” program—a new streamlined approach to providing Ukrainian citizens who have fled their home country because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis.
But where does that leave Central Americans or Haitian refugees, who are also at the US—Mexico border, striving to survive because of war in their land?
Immigration advocates have reported seeing Ukrainian refugees admitted into the US without question while simultaneously witnessing the turning away of Brown migrants by border patrol agents.
Julia Neusner, a refugee protection attorney, witnessed border agents admitting 26 Ukrainian asylum seekers while “turning away a Mexican family” who were waiting alongside them.
In response to these claims, a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson told the Copper Courier, “Title 42 public health order remains in place with respect to single adults and family units, and the Department of Homeland Security continues to operate in accordance with that order to the greatest extent possible. Consistent with the CDC Order, DHS continues to grant Title 42 exceptions to particularly vulnerable individuals of all nationalities for humanitarian reasons. All exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis”.
In an interview with The Copper Courier, Allen Morris, Sr. Policy & Government Affairs Strategist at RAICES, said he too has heard similar stories, including one of a border patrol officer pushing a Black migrant to the side and telling them that a Ukrainian citizen was actually the “real refugee” and to step aside and let them come through.
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“But one thing that I have to always point to is this is not an isolated incident,” Morris said. “Even before the Ukrainian crisis, and this is something where I understand that people are having this discussion, but Black and Brown people have been pushed to the side since forever. It’s just now more so on a bigger platform where people are now seeing that Black and Brown people that come to the border are mistreated, and they are not given the benefit of the doubt.”
Dinorah Nash, the services program director at Arizona Center for Empowerment, said the US should “open the door” to people from Latin America who are in need, just like Ukrainians.
“It’s a different situation, but in a way, it’s still a crisis. The cartels, the criminal organization, can be considered as a war, not in the same exact way, but the civilian people are suffering from all those things, and they have done nothing bad,” Nash said.
“We celebrate what the Biden Administration is doing for Ukrainians because we can’t even imagine what they’re going through. But, at the same time, we would like to see the same opportunity for the Latin American countries, which are definitely going through a crisis as well. And we would like to see the same opportunity for them because their lives are in danger.”
Public support doesn’t seem to be an issue. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows 65% of Americans favor accepting Ukrainian refugees into the US, while 15% oppose it. An additional 19% say they neither favor nor oppose.
Associated Press contributed to this story.