What Ukrainian Refugees Showed About America.
I have lived a nice middle class life in America since we arrived in 1992. My parents had 6 months stay paid and within two months my father managed to find a job as a technician and my mother would go to people’s homes and clean them. A few months later she also got a job at same place as my father as a drafter. They were both under employed as engineers, but they were happy to be working at all. Thirty years later, things couldn’t be more different.
The Ukrainian refugees have opened up our eyes to the broken immigration and social system in America. It could be worse, but it is pretty bad.
On February 24 Russia broke it’s promise not to invade Ukraine, for the second time since it invaded Crimea in 2014. America under Biden broke its promise to Ukraine by not doing anything to stop Russia. Yes we punished them with sanctions and yes we gave some weapons and intelligence to Ukraine, but nothing that would stop a genocidal total war that Russia unleashed upon the Ukrainian people. Within days millions of Ukrainians fled Ukraine. By end of March, Ukrainians had exhausted their finances and luck in Europe and realized there were benefits but no jobs, and so they decided to go and try their luck in the land of opportunity, and supposed ally of Ukraine. There was a catch though, there was no way for them to come to America.
Because Russia did not declare war, Ukrainians were not refugees of a war. Because Ukraine was not persecuting them, they could not ask for assylum. Their only choice was to fly to Mexico as tourists and then come to the border and ask for Humanitarian Parole. And so they came, by the thousands. They came thinking they would get help with housing the way they did in Europe, they would find work and then they would make a life for themselves, far from the shells of Russia and far from the communal gyms of Kyiv and Lviv and half way houses of Europe. Little did they know, that America is no longer a land of dreams, it has nightmares too.
Once they managed to get across, that required waiting in a line at the border sometimes for days, sleeping on the ground at a bus stop with rats and criminals around them at first and then in a sports gym with gangs and cartels around the corner, they would be given a year to live in US and no help whatsoever.
They would also have no ability to work as in US, a parolee has to apply for the opportunity to work and that process at the start would take 5–6 months.
We the first generation of refugees had no idea things were so bleak for the newcomers. These people would be tricked into working slave jobs, into living in slave conditions with people who were seeking to take advantage of them. They were taken advantage of along their way to US, robbed in Mexico and then mistreated in US.
We the refugees, Ukrainians, Jews, Russians, Belorussians, Mexicans and everyone else who came to help went to the media and politicians. We made phone calls, we made visits. We reduced the wait at the border by opening an entry way that made it possible for Ukrainians and Central Americans and Haitians to come in with a shorter stay. We got them ability to come in through other ports of entry so they wouldn’t have to fly to Mexico. We got them a two year parole instead of one and opened up benefits like food stamps and housing assistance. We got them better process to prevent criminals from coming and criminals from becoming hosts and taking advantage of the refugees.
American system was becoming better through the massive efforts of the diaspora and all the past immigrants. The system was becoming more humane for all refugees. But there was one more area that we were not expecting to come face, the American war on poor.
In US we live with the credit score like fish live with mercury, we just assume that this poison is part of the environment. We struggle to keep it up, we get little alerts every month if it goes up and down. We are ruled by a little three digit number that can save us money or cost us thousands in extra fees. What many of us in middle class don’t know, is that that little number can be the difference between sleeping in a bed like a human, and sleeping outside like an animal.
That little number has the ability to make people into animals and suddenly, we saw that little number or lack of it, making Ukrainians who survived the beastly onslaught of Russia, and then treated like animals in America.
These Ukrainians arrived without a credit score, and the fact that they are immigrants and can’t possibly have a credit score didn’t stop landlords from denying them a place to live. Even if they had money, even if they could find a job, regardless of the family status and how many kids they had, these people were forced to live in hotels and motels, because they didn’t have a number.
Suddenly, we realized the impact of this system where your honesty and your right to live in a home was defined by a number. Number too low and you do not deserve to have a roof over your head. Deeper research by New York Times showed that today, there are 500,000 Americans who live in hotels and motels where they pay 50% and more than they would if they lived in an apartment, all because the landlords deny them ability to live in an apartment, because of a score.
A score introduced in 1989 has come to rule America, has come to destroy America. This little number has made the number of people living in hotels go up from 200,000 to 500,000. It has stopped people from moving to another town for another job because there’s no way they could get another place to live if they left. It drained their accounts and forced them into homelessness, 13 million Americans, 1.3 million of them are children. That number has been increasing since 1980ies when public housing was cut by Regan administration and then rose more and more as services for mental health were cut, drug war intensified, welfare destroyed and credit score took away the ability of middle class people to weather a small hit to their finances.
The way Americans would “fix” this is like any other issue: “do the right thing after exhausting all other options” as Churchill famously said. In US we don’t like to study the past so we tend to ignore the causes and focus on the cheap and easy solution. In this case it is shelters. We created more and more shelters while ignoring the causes for why people were becoming homeless. But not anymore.
We the Ukrainian refugees will not let our Ukrainian people suffer in US the fat that Russia is making them suffer in Ukraine by blowing up their homes. We will demand humane treatment of people, that housing is a right not a privilege. And as a result, we will make America better for all Americans, once again.