Ukrainian refugees expected in America


Ukrainian refugees wait in a gymnasium Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees are arriving daily to this Mexican border city, where they wait two to four days for U.S officials to admit them on humanitarian parole. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The bipartisan and public support for Ukrainian refugees are reflected in the United States’ goal to accept 100,000 refugees, per President Joe Biden on March 24.

Awareness campaigns and fundraising for Ukrainian refugees are all over social media. Celebrities shared their support for Ukraine and DePaul’s Student Government Association (SGA) shared their stance opposing Russia’s invasion.

However, the U.S. hasn’t accepted a majority of Ukrainian refugees.

“I don’t know if we will see [large amounts of Ukrainian refugees] at all,” said Kathleen Arnold, DePaul director of refugee and forced migration studies. “Ukrainians have not come in yet, it isn’t a fact, it hasn’t happened. Europe has taken the majority [of them].”

When the DePaul SGA released a statement condemning the Russian invasion and standing in solidarity with Ukraine refugees, they acknowledged the current barriers impeding ethnic Ukrainians seeking refuge.

“We also realize that the intersectional facets can make the effects of war harmful for people of historically marginalized identities in Ukraine: this includes widespread racist rhetoric in global newsrooms and prejudice that Black and Brown immigrants are reporting is preventing them from fleeing through border crossings,” the statement said.

Parveen Mundi, SGA’s senator for intercultural awareness, felt she needed to address these specific experiences.

“Being able to address both the plight of Ukrainians with empathy and acknowledging the racism in play as these refugees attempted to flee their country are not mutually exclusive,” Mundi said.

Jamia Jowers, president of the board of directors for the Chicago Refugee Coalition, said that these experiences are being overlooked.

“Western media at large has grossly under-reported the Black and Brown Ukrainians or Africans or other people of color not being permitted or outright blocked from exiting,” Jowers said. “This discrimination has been swift and blatant.”

Despite the United States’ anticipation of Ukrainian refugees, U.S. immigration services are still processing the 75,000 Afghan refugees that arrived in fall 2021. Afghan refugees received Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

“Last fall, people were really welcoming,” Arnold said. “We are going to have let in more Afghan refugees than Ukrainians.”

Former President Donald Trump attempted to dial back TPS policies while Biden is expanding which countries can receive TPS, such as Ukraine,  according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

DePaul International Studies Chair Shailja Sharma said the change in administration has influenced rolling back discriminatory policies, but has not altered the entire system.

“On the one hand, [ Biden] is trying to roll back some of the cuts and the obstruction, obstructive kind of laws that Trump put in place,” Sharma said. “On the other hand, he’s not throwing open the gates because we saw that in the case of the Afghan refugees.”

Trump had made comments about Haiti and African nations being “shithole” countries in 2018. Arnold noted that after Trump left office, discourse about refugees hasn’t been “outwardly racist.” The deportation numbers have also changed during each administration.

“It has been argued before that both [former President George] Bush, Obama and Trump have had arguably higher deportation numbers and that has been reported,” Jowers said. “But I don’t think Biden’s administration is racially biased to any other immigrant group.”

A majority of Somali, Haitian, Sudan and South Sudanese immigrants and refugees were unable to come inside the U.S. and were met with force.

“Our Haitian brothers and sisters were met on horseback and whipped and swiftly deported,” Jowers said. “There wasn’t even really a halt to their deportations while we sort of assessed the crisis situation. Outside of the Haitian example that we all witnessed, there are still deportations for African and Caribbean refugees back to their fragile governments, violent areas and war torn homelands.”

Sharma said that historical racist notions are still at play for marginalized racial and ethnic refugees.

“There’s an element of Islamophobia definitely in play,” Sharma said. “This idea that Muslims are harder to assimilate than Christians or white people. In terms of thinking about Middle Easterners and Africans, there’s also this idea that they are somehow migrants, whereas Ukrainians are refugees.”

Arnold suggested that the U.S. isn’t done reforming immigration policies.

“In this particular case, it doesn’t mean we have racial reckoning,” she said.

Afghans and Ukrainians are experiencing the Biden administration’s changes to the refugee system to allow for more refugees receiving TPS and protections.

“They certainly brought our foreign policy strategies and humanitarian policies that prompted the swift action for Ukrainians versus the Afghan refugees,” Jowers said. “But it’s been too slow and not to reverse previous administration restrictions on immigration.”

Policies such as raising the cap on refugees are coming after crises occurred for African, Middle Eastern and Asian refugees.

“Without deliberate attention, this response is going to continue to be uneven,” Jowers said. “[Biden’s administration] has in general responded quickly and extended humanitarian protections to predominantly white European refugees. There’s not this pressure or this swiftness to do the same for people of color from Africa, the Middle East and Asia and this needs to be rectified immediately.”

Arnold said that Ukrainians flying to Tijuana and asking for humanitarian relief are able to receive results before Central Americans who are trying to claim refugee status highlight systemic racism.

“Both sets of people are probably equally traumatized from violence and more — but the definition of a refugee as it has been interpreted by the US favors those who have been persecuted by a state versus non-state actors,” Arnold said. “Racism in this case is not overt, but is baked into the processes that discount the forms of violence and trauma that Central Americans have gone through.”

Jowers said that not only does refugee policy need to grant protections, but help adjust to life.

“We’re pushing away from this Global North and empowering refugees through dignified provision,” she said. “Fundamentally, we want our refugees not only to be welcomed in our community, but to emerge into leaders in their own right.”