BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the crisis in Ukraine continues to unfold, an estimated five million Ukrainians displaced by the war have fled that country. The U.S. government has pledged to help up to 100-thousand people seeking shelter but not in the traditional path of refugee resettlement.
2 On Your Side asked local refugee resettlement advocates to help explain this sponsorship option from Washington.
As millions of Ukrainians fled their war-ravaged country, federal officials last week unveiled the 'Uniting for Ukraine' program through the Department of Homeland Security to enable some of them to come to the US.
Western New York agencies that handle refugee resettlement in this area are seeking more information about it. But some already pointed out there is a big difference. They contend this is actually a sponsorship program and they would technically be US parolees and not really refugees.
Molly Carr who is CEO of Jewish Family Services of Western New York told us.
"Unlike the normal refugee program which is through a State Department process, these individuals will go through an immigration process under the Department of Homeland Security. And individuals must have a sponsor on the US side who will commit to financially sponsoring an individual so that they may be paroled into the United States for a period of up to two years."
So without that regular refugee status under the State Department which is the traditional path to starting a new life in the US, this is a very limited option for those who wish to come here.
Carr adds "Individuals who come from Ukraine under this special sponsorship program are not being admitted permanently to the United States. They are being paroled to the United States - which means they are getting a temporary status that after two years may or may not be renewed."
She says that could leave them perhaps in limbo two years from now.
And then for those who sign up to actually sponsor them, the refugee resettlement agencies would not get normal funding to help any of these new arrivals or make sure they are made eligible to be covered under programs like Medicaid. Instead, it's all on the sponsor to cover according to Carr.
"If somebody makes that commitment to sponsor somebody they have to understand upfront that there will be costs for housing, and food, and health care and other essentials for the individual's sponsor. Unlike the refugee program where we receive funding to provide all of those services and individuals are eligible for the social services safety net that we have here in Western New York."
Jewish Family Services and similar refugee resettlement organizations want to make sure potential local sponsors completely understand this key distinction before signing up. They point out that potentially expensive physical and mental health care may be needed for people traumatized by war.
Local refugee resettlement agencies are meeting with supporters in this area to make sure they understand the unique status and required commitment.
They are also seeking meetings with the local Congressional delegation to let lawmakers know that this may not be the right approach for such cases with troubled people.
CBS News reports that the Biden Administration proposed this new sponsorship program to discourage Ukrainians from seeking to enter the US from the Mexican border where there have been processing backlogs . They also reportedly stated they did not feel most displaced Ukrainians would wish to remain in the U.S. on a permanent basis.
Carr says a similar option was used for those fleeing Afghanistan last year and agencies maintain there are now some legal problems for them as well.