Marble Falls I had to call our long-time volunteer pro-bono lawyer, former ACORN and Local 100 organizer, brother, and friend a week or so ago. He was running a little late. He was writing the draft lease for an antenna that the City Council of Eudora, Arkansas had agreed could be placed on top of their water tower so that one of our new noncommercial radio licenses, KEUD at 50,000 watts could begin the process of going on the air. He had been suddenly busy he said, because they were hosting two young women who were Ukrainian refugees at their home in Austin, Texas. He would get the job done still, just as he always does, and he did, but he had a good excuse for it taking some extra days.
He and his family are not alone and are good examples that the true beating heart of what’s best in America is still alive, if not well. For a change, after so much acrimony about immigrants, refugees, and our borders, the Biden administration cut through red tape and opened its arms to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their homes and lands. The fast-tracked program was a watershed. If you qualified and could prove that you had an American sponsor, you were on your way. As the Washington Post reports:
Ukrainians who qualified were granted immediate humanitarian parole to live and then work in the U.S. for two years as long as they had sponsors here vowing to support them financially. There were many who wanted to come—and even more Americans who wanted them here. The numbers behind the program called Uniting for Ukraine were staggering: 171,000 applications to be sponsors, 121,000 travel authorizations for Ukrainians and roughly 85,000 arriving since April, said a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman. By contrast, 25,465 refugees from around the world resettled in the U.S. with a path to citizenship in the government’s fiscal 2022, according to State Department data. The prior year, it was 11,411, the fewest in the U.S. refugee program’s history. After the Trump administration lowered the ceiling of annual refugee admissions to 15,000, the Biden administration raised the cap to 125,000 last year, but it still didn’t get close to that goal because of the severely backlogged system.
The response from so many families is amazing, but equally amazing was the fact that our government did right this time, rather than whining, kvetching, and slow-walking the process.
The concept of temporary parole and model of private sponsorship dramatically streamlined the process. The accelerated program built around electronic applications allowed Ukrainians to seek refuge online and skip the paperwork normally required. The government even collaborated with a nonprofit that matched Americans and Ukrainians. Entering the country took weeks instead of years as a result.
Certainly, there special circumstances here, given Russia’s invasion and the clear US foreign and military response in support. The only cloud in this sunny story is whether or not we would have responded as quickly and as well if this had been another country with other racial and religious characteristics.
We have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Our response here is on the list. Let’s hope the list gets longer and more welcoming to people all over the world facing war, hunger, and worse, and that we can once again be the country that offers a bright, shining light of hope, rather than a darkened and lock door to the future.