More than 71,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S. since President Joe Biden announced in March that his administration would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the country's war with Russia, according to new data from the Department of Homeland Security.
Refugee advocates say the numbers are welcome news, but they say the Biden administration is not responsible for bringing in the bulk of those who have found their way here.
The DHS data shows that most of those who have entered the U.S. have been granted visas they held prior to the war, or by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and not through the Biden administration's Uniting for Ukraine web portal that allows Americans to sponsor Ukrainians they know.
More than 22,000 have crossed the southern border since March 24, but that pathway has been shut down as the web portal launched, and Ukrainians at the border started to be subject to the Covid-related public health order, known as Title 42, which blocks many migrants from seeking asylum.
More than 15,000 Ukrainians have entered the U.S. after being approved for sponsorship online, and more are expected to come as more than 23,000 have been approved but not yet traveled to the U.S.
Krish O Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration is inflating the number of Ukrainians it has worked to bring in, since only 15,000 have come through the system it set up.
We shouldn't count towards the 100,000 commitment for those who weren't actually processed through the Uniting for Ukraine program. Vignarajah said the figures show the current ad hoc nature of the program. Ukrainian refugees are exploring every avenue in order to seek refuge in the U.S. We should be making it simple and straightforward as possible. DHS referred NBC News to the White House National Security Council for comment.
In a statement, an NSC spokeswoman said, "We are proud to be in compliance with President Biden's commitment to welcome 100,000 displaced Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia's aggression who are seeking refuge in the United States. We look forward to welcoming Ukrainians into our country as we continue to take steps to support those fleeing the war. Only 300 Ukrainians have been resettled through the traditional U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, a program that uses federal funds to bring in UN-vetted refugees, resettle them in communities with resources to help find doctors, schools, jobs, and connections to their cultures.
Biden promised to bring in Afghans and Ukrainians after it was drastically cut off by the Trump administration. Many Afghans who served with American troops were left stranded in the now Taliban-controlled country, while others who were brought to the U.S. were in long lines to apply for benefits like work authorization.
Lacy Broemel, a policy analyst at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said that the Biden administration could bring in more refugees from other countries if it was willing to do so.
When they have the political will, they can do it. Broemel said that they want to see that same will be applied to Afghans who are still waiting for parole and other populations who are waiting for admission through the U.S. refugee program.