Utahns use Facebook to find Ukrainian refugees sponsoring under the Biden program

Michael Atkinson and his wife have nothing to do with Ukraine, Russia or Eastern Europe. They haven’t even visited the area.

However, they have a completed basement apartment in Heliman’s home, and a Ukrainian mother and her three children will call home within a few weeks.

Atkinsons is among the 19,000 people living in the United States who have applied to sponsor Ukrainian families under the Biden administration’s Ukrainian unification program, which entered its third week on Monday. The Department of Homeland Security has announced that more than 6,000 people have been approved and arranged for travel, and the first wave of people recognized under the program is slowly beginning to enter.

Biden says the United States is ready to allow at least 100,000 Ukrainians to flee Russia’s aggression.

However, the administration is taking a new approach to resettlement with Ukrainians, relying on the goodwill of those who are already legally in the United States. Sponsors, not governments, are the hooks for coordinating resettlement and financially supporting Ukrainian refugees.

This is the largest sponsor-based resettlement program in US history and is designed to streamline the Ukrainian process with friends and family in the United States. But nothing prevents strangers from sponsoring strangers.

The family slowly escaped from the comfort zone, welcoming family friends from France one year and foreign students the following year.

“We got used to saying,’I can do this,'” Atkinson said. “It will be okay, it will be cool and a little crazy. And that’s okay.”

Michael Atkinson, who lives in Heliman, will show his basement apartment on Friday, May 13, 2022. The apartment will soon accommodate Ukrainian refugee families.

Scott G Winterton, Dezalet News

How the program works

Anyone who is legally resident in the United States can apply for financial assistance for Ukrainian refugees, including other immigrants and green card holders.The application can be found at Homeland Security Portal..

  • The first step is to find a qualified Ukrainian family. This includes families who have fled the country after February 11th, or who are still in Ukraine.
  • Sponsors then fill out an I-134 form to declare their income and the income of the refugee family they advocate.
  • The sponsor may then be scrutinized and asked to interview the I-134 form or provide supplementary evidence.
  • Once approved, Ukrainian families will be instructed to verify their personal information, submit measles, polio, COVID-19 vaccination evidence and pass background checks and medical screening.
  • If they pass, Ukrainians are responsible for arranging their own trip to put them in the United States within 90 days. They are given humanitarian parole. This lasts for two years and paves the way for a work permit.

This is what some experts call the trade-off, such as Aden Batal, director of immigration and refugee services at the Catholic Community Services Salt Lake Office.

Ukrainians who need an immediate route to the United States now have it. However, humanitarian parolees are not eligible for social programs such as food stamps and Medicaid — refugees coming through traditional resettlement routes are eligible. They also do not receive the same level of support from resettlement agencies such as the Japan Disaster Relief Team and Catholic Community Services.

“It will be a big deal for those who have lost everything they had and witnessed all the trauma of this horrific war, and now they are coming and disqualifying (of social programs),” Batal said. Said. “They will need the help of resettlement agencies, which is why we are seeking the right resources from the federal government and parliament.”

For now, the program is financially dependent on sponsors. Sponsors must prove in I-134 format that they can provide housing and cash assistance as needed. Mr. Batal says parliament can allocate funds so that parolees are eligible for the same benefits available to those with refugee status.

According to the unity for Ukraine, it accepted 14,500 applicants in the first 10 days. The Wall Street JournalOverlaps with many of the 20,000 Ukrainians who tried to enter the United States along the Mexican border.

“I don’t think it’s possible without social media.”

On Tuesday, Melanie Williamson of Salt Lake City spent the afternoon applying to sponsor a family currently living in a refugee camp in Mexico City.

Williamson contacted his family via Facebook.

The social media platform is a hub for sponsors to connect with refugees and has Facebook pages such as: Ukraine North America With thousands of members from Ukraine, the United States and Canada, we aim to unite with each other.

“I don’t think it would be possible without social media,” says Williamson.

Like Atkinsons, Williamson had no previous relationship with Ukraine. But when the war broke out in February, she felt forced to donate money to support the group. She then joined several Facebook groups, eventually contacting strangers thousands of miles away and asking if she needed a sponsor.

“If you have a room in your house, you can put people in,” she said, and the family doesn’t live with her, instead aiming for Austin, Texas.

“But helping someone one-on-one can still be really rewarding. I’m the only one, but I’ve influenced one,” she said.

Ukrainians cannot apply for humanitarian parole through the program and instead need to find a sponsor to apply for them. Refugees often submit an online dating profile analogy to Williamson and other sponsors, detailing their travels, hobbies, interests, and even religious and political views from Ukraine. ..

“It’s kind of like dating,” said Michael Atkinson. “Based on your post, you can make a lot of decisions about who you are applying for.”

Future sponsors will also create what looks like a rental property.

“People post here,” I have a home in northern New York and want to welcome my family. ” And they will receive all these replies from the Ukrainians saying, “Choose me, choose me,” Atkinson said.

If you look through some Facebook pages, you’ll see posts asking for sponsorship from a Ukrainian family. It wasn’t an easy process — in many cases people didn’t reply or found that their families didn’t need physical housing. But in the end they started a dialogue with a young mother who now lives in Turkey and her three children. Within a few weeks, they will land in Salt Lake City.

Nonprofits and nonprofits help match Americans with Ukrainians. Welcome to us Notify sponsors when there are refugees in need. Future sponsors are also using the community app Next Door for coordination.

Future model of resettlement?

Immigration experts say unity for Ukraine could be a model for future resettlement efforts.

“There has always been a conversation like this about refugee-related community sponsorship. Why isn’t this? How does this work? And towards the end of the Obama era, this model “There was,” said Asya Palek, director of the Utah Refugee Services Department.

Palek has various feelings about this program. Resettlement is a long process, and approval of entry into the United States is the first step in a long journey that includes long-term housing, careers, healthcare, learning English, child care, education, and more.

Some of the guidance normally provided by resettlements is not available to Ukrainians in humanitarian parole status. But it’s exciting to see a system full of support that has so far proven to be effective, she says.

“This is the first time (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) has applied online. And they have already approved 6,000 applications, which is noteworthy. On the other hand, yes, they do. There is a gap in what they are doing, while they are doing something they have never done before, “she said.

What to expect as more Ukrainians escape the war

Experts say it is unlikely that the United States will resettle 100,000 refugees by uniting solely for Ukraine, as the program is completely dependent on sponsors.

“I think it’s really impossible for that number to be met with sponsorship,” said Catholic Community Services Batal.

Bataal believes that more people are more likely to enter the United States via asylum or traditional refugee routes. This can take years.

“I think there are still people (US) who will benefit, relatives and friends,” he said. “… But in either Ukraine or neighboring countries, many people are still stuck and there are no relatives or people to find their sponsors.”

In February, March and April, less than 550 Ukrainians were accepted into 25 US states through the US refugee resettlement process. Washington has recognized the highest number of 164 in the United States. According to Utah data, no one has resettled in Utah. Refugee processing center..

The Department of Homeland Security does not yet know how many Ukrainians will resettle through the refugee program. Utah probably won’t see anyone until October, says Palek.

According to the report, at least 87% of voters in Beehive support the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees. Deseret News / Hinckley Institute of Politics Poll..

Even with the traditional resettlement process, experts say most refugees do not move to the United States but stay in neighboring countries, such as Poland, Romania and Hungary, which accept a total of more than 4.5 million Ukrainians. Choose to do.

“Most people prefer to be close to their homes, because after all, their ultimate goal is to go home if circumstances permit,” said Olga, a UN Refugee Agency spokesman.・ Salad said.

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