Close to 3,000 Ukrainians entered the U.S. via its southern border last week, possibly heralding a wave of migrants fleeing Russian aggression, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told CBS Wednesday—as his agency prepares for a wider jump in border-crossings after a Trump-era rule allowing migrants to be rapidly expelled is set to expire next month.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, scores of Ukrainians have traveled to the Mexican border city of Tijuana and sought to enter the United States, several media outlets have reported in recent weeks.
Mayorkas told CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell on Wednesday that Ukrainian refugees entering via the southern border would be considered for “humanitarian parole,” which grants special protection for people fleeing persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality or group membership.
A March 11 Customs and Border Protection memo obtained by CBS instructed border authorities to consider exempting Ukrainian nationals from Title 42—a public health rule dating to the Trump Administration under which most unauthorized adult migrants are removed from the U.S. quickly after their arrest—on a case-by-case basis, taking into account humanitarian interests.
Mayorkas denied there would be a double-standard favoring Ukrainian migrants over Central American migrants when it came to Title 42 exemptions.
The number of Ukrainian citizens encountered along the southwest land border spiked to a high of 358 in December 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection data, up from just six in December 2020 but far lower than the nearly 3,000 who reportedly crossed last week.
The Biden Administration plans to terminate Title 42 on May 23, more than two years after it was first introduced. The policy is controversial, with opponents arguing it stops persecuted migrants from accessing their right to claim asylum while supporters say it has prevented a surge in border-crossings. Mayorkas told O'Donnell the Biden Administration was “surging resources” in preparation for a possible increase in attempts to cross the border, and promised the DHS would not implement “policies of cruelty that disregard our asylum laws” like in the past.
The majority of Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression have ended up in neighboring countries: 2.49 million have entered Poland, 654,825 have entered Romania and 399,039 have entered Moldova, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, March 24, the Biden Administration announced the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s invasion—nearly twice as many refugees as arrived from all countries combined during the fiscal year 2017, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration think tank. The Biden Administration additionally promised to send $1 billion in aid to European nations to help them absorb refugees from Ukraine. The 1980 Refugee Act establishes guidelines for the U.S.’s refugee resettlement programs, saying that refugees should be placed to help them “achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible” after arriving, but it remains to be seen exactly how the administration would adjust its historical guidelines to accommodate such a large surge of arrivals.
4.28 million. That’s how many refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, according to UNHCR. Of that 4.28 million, 3.43 million left Ukraine in March alone, UNHCR said.
Though a strong majority of Americans favor admitting substantial numbers of Ukrainian refugees to the U.S., there is some partisan division on the subject. In March, 80% of Democrats said they favored letting thousands of Ukrainians into the U.S., while only 57% of Republicans favored doing so, according to a study by the Pew Research Group.