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US must open its doors to more Ukrainian refugees

With Biden’s goal of 100,000 now met, it’s time to move the goalposts.

CHERNIVTSI, UKRAINE - 7/4/2022 A woman rests against a metal fence while waiting with hundreds of other displaced Ukrainians to be seen by a Boston-based volunteer group that provides money to war-scattered families like themselves. The group, called Cash for Refugees, was founded by Natasha Dukach and her husband Semyon, who made it their mission to connect displaced Ukrainians with small amounts of cash to buy day-to-day necessities — phone cards, children’s clothing, soap and toothpaste, laptop chargers.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Russia’s war of attrition in Ukraine grinds on, approaching the half-year mark and creating a flood of refugees not seen since World War II.

Nearly one-third of the nation’s population has been displaced, a staggering 12.5 million people. About half of those have been forced to move within the country, typically from the war-torn Donbas region in the east to safer cities in the west. Many carry little more than small suitcases and favorite toys to comfort children torn from their beds and the “before” life. The Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie has chronicled the plight of many of those refugees and efforts to aid them, including by a Boston couple, in a moving three-part series.


The other half of those displaced people are scattered throughout Europe, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Those refugees, more than 6.2 million strong, are largely dependent on international aid agencies for housing, food, and educational support for their children.

In March President Biden announced the United States would offer a temporary safe haven to 100,000 refugees fleeing the bloody invasion Vladimir Putin launched last February. Last week that entirely too modest number was reached.

The United States can and must do better. The country has a history of offering refuge for those fleeing war, famine, and natural disaster. It has also shamefully reneged on that promise, as it did in rejecting Jewish refugees during World War II. Now is the time to ensure that “Give me your tired, your poor,” are more than empty words etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The Ukrainian nationals who have arrived here since the Russian invasion have done so through a variety of programs and immigration channels. According to government data, some 47,000 have entered on temporary or immigrant visas, another 30,000 have been resettled under private sponsorship programs that come under the Department of Homeland Security’s Uniting for Ukraine umbrella. More than 22,000 entered via the US-Mexican border and were granted temporary parole status — an emergency program largely ended in late April. About 500 have entered through the traditional refugee program overseen by the United Nations Refugee Agency.


Uniting for Ukraine allows Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members to stay in the United States for up to two years but applicants “must have a supporter in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay in the United States.” Some 92,000 Americans have filed applications to be sponsors and 62,000 Ukrainians (including the 30,000 already admitted) have been granted permission to travel here as of the end of July.

So DHS officials have insisted the 100,000 figure isn’t a hard “cap.”

And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement to CBS News said, “DHS will continue to welcome additional Ukrainians in the weeks and months to come, consistent with President Biden’s commitment.” The president should put some meat on that ambiguous response by declaring his intention to accept more refugees. The $900 million Congress approved in May to support relief for Ukrainian families should provide sufficient funds to increase those numbers.

Canada has similarly reached out with “special programs to help thousands of Ukrainian nationals and their family members find safety.” But Canada, with a population about one-10th that of the United States, has received more than 433,000 applications under its programs as of July 24 and already approved more than 276,000 of those applications.


Britain has accepted more than 104,000 Ukrainian refugees and nations all over Europe from tiny Estonia to Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain have already accepted tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainian families.

The United States has been, belatedly, generous in keeping up the flow of arms needed by the Ukrainian government to fight that war and in providing humanitarian aid to those still in Ukraine caught in its horrifying grasp.

But it hasn’t even come close to meeting a broader commitment to help the many seeking nothing more than a temporary haven from a war their own government did not start but is determined not to lose.

The war is far from over. And the human tragedy that has become a daily part of it could conceivably get worse as Russia continues to bombard civilian areas, wiping out apartment buildings, turning hospitals and schools to rubble.

Keeping the door open here to those forced to flee, including those without sponsors, is one more way to support the Ukrainian war effort and be true to the best of American ideals.

It’s a way to turn good intentions into demonstrably good works.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.