Opinion Why isn’t Biden taking in refugees from Ukraine?

Passengers wait for a train to Poland on Feb. 27 in Lviv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Passengers wait for a train to Poland on Feb. 27 in Lviv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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The images linger in your mind: Ukrainian children pressed against the windows of a bus or train sobbing or waving goodbye to their fathers and other relatives who remain behind to try to fight off an unjustified Russian war on Ukraine. It’s easy to imagine this could be your family broken apart. These could be your children joining the more than 1 million refugees trying to flee Ukraine in the past week.

President Biden sent a powerful message at his State of the Union address, proclaiming: “We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.” The White House has been quick to send humanitarian and some military aid and to enact punishing sanctions on Russia to cut off Vladimir Putin’s ability to easily finance this war. But there is something else the White House must do soon: offer to take in refugees from Ukraine.

The White House took the right step Thursday to offer temporary protected status (TPS) to Ukrainians currently in the United States on business, tourism or student visas. This will ensure that these people do not have to return to a war zone. It had bipartisan support and will make a life-changing difference to these families. About 75,100 Ukrainians in the United States will benefit from this move, according to a Department of Homeland Security estimate.

But TPS does nothing to help with the swell of refugees crossing the Ukrainian border daily. It’s heartening to see so many nations in Europe taking in people fleeing Ukraine. Poland alone has taken in more than 500,000, with many Polish people offering rooms in their homes to the refugees and helping to rebuild a critical train route to make it easier for Ukrainians to flee. After years of Poland lurching away from democracy and the European Union, it’s a rapid turnaround that Mr. Biden and top E.U. leaders should be quick to support, along with ensuring that non-White refugees leaving Ukraine are also welcomed.

Beyond money, it would send a strong signal to Poland, Hungary and other nations taking in refugees if Mr. Biden would announce that the United States would accept tens of thousands of Ukrainians as well. (Mr. Biden allowed entry to about 76,000 Afghan refugees last year.) The president can do this on his own, without Congress. This is yet another way to truly stand with the brave and industrious Ukrainian people and our allies around the world. It would also provide more workers for the U.S. economy.

This is already being called “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” and it’s likely to get far worse in the weeks ahead. One of the United States’ great moral failures in the 20th century was turning away some Jewish refugees during World War II and then not taking in more displaced people after the war, especially Jews who survived the Holocaust. Today’s leaders should not repeat that mistake. We should welcome Ukrainians with open arms.

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