Ups and Down of Uniting for Ukraine
It was April and we were in a Tijuana hotel conference room. In the room were the various leaders of the effort to help Ukrainians who were stuck in Tijuana, online were the various government officials from US and Mexico.
Our ask was open other ports of entry. Our fear was that the thousands of people were at risk of falling pray to cartels. Our argument was that there was not enough vetting of those coming in, that there was not enough vetting of the sponsors who were vouching for Ukrainians. A better process was clearly needed.
What came out was Uniting for Ukraine. A first of its kind, online registration and process to vet Ukrainians and Americans who would sponsor Ukrainians. We welcomed this program, but we didn’t realize just how new it would be and how hard we would have to work to make it better.
From the outset we had a problem. The sponsor matching program created by Welcome.US was not live and wouldn’t be for months. There were 300 people in Mexico City and more were arriving every day and 30% of them did not have a sponsor. The sponsorship wording was intimidating, it said that the sponsor would be responsible for all costs for the next two years.
Our attorneys quickly explained that the Fiscal Sponsorship of I-134 was not meant to create the kind of obligation that it looked to be. That this was a promise to US government and that so most of the Ukrainians were not coming over poor, but with savings and once they had an opportunity to work, they would be able to provide for themselves, help US economy and our country through taxes. This meant that we had to find sponsors who were willing to listen and trust us. This was not easy. It was an all out effort that took months but in the end, we managed to get the people across.
The website of course wasn’t perfect. The program was not totally defined and so there were many phone calls first with case managers and then with Consulate and the heads of the USCIS to fix the bugs and change the process to be conducive to speedy and good processing.
Some of our sponsors were young professionals who could navigate the site, some were older and retired who had to be helped. But they stuck with us and helped Ukrainians enter US. Some continued to work and help the new people fill things out, some helped the refugees go to the bank and fill out the many forms that one has to fill out to be living in US. Because each state and city has a different process, the work to help with these tasks was not insignificant.
The new system now allowed for biometric processing of refugees and vetting of the sponsors. Advocacy of many in the Ukrainian diaspora helped the families get aid that all refugees get as far as food, we are still working on getting them help with housing. We still need to reword the fiscal sponsorship, as it does not apply to the vast majority of Ukrainians who have the means to live and thrive in US. With those changes, we will be able to help the thousands of people whose lives are on hold due to a war, who can come to US and help US and Ukraine from abroad, by relieving the pressure on Ukrainian government and helping with their earnings and help.
Some may end up staying in US, and make a home, some may return. But the point is, that all will be treated humanely, showing the world and Russia, that the way of prosperity is not violence and hate, but care and kindness.
For those in America who have legal standing (citizenship, visa or parole) and meet the minimum fiscal requirement, please consider sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee. Signing up via https://uasponsors.com