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Local Ukrainians Eager To Bring Loved Ones To LA Under Biden’s Plan

Rubble and shattered glass on the ground, a broken glass pane on the left, a street further to the left. Some people walk in the background; a young man in a red jacket is in the front right, looking at his phone.
Destruction from Russian shelling in Kyiv.
(Chris McGrath
Getty Images Europe)
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President Biden announced this week that the U.S. will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion.

But so far, details of how or when they will be admitted are few, as local Ukrainian families and refugee resettlement agencies await guidance.

As the news of Thursday's announcement circulated, Laryssa Reifel, heads the Ukrainian Culture Center in East Hollywood, began getting calls from local families seeking information about how to bring loved ones here.

While it’s good news, she said she was disappointed to not have more concrete details to share with people who are anxious to help their relatives.

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“We are in a holding pattern,” Reifel said, “because though the State Department acknowledges that this decision to allow a hundred thousand people in has been made, they don't yet have a process to accomplish the goal.”

Local refugee resettlement agencies say they’re also waiting on details.

In a response emailed from its press office, the State Department said the agency is looking into various avenues for displaced Ukrainians, and that more details about the process will be shared at a later date.

“We are looking at the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, visas, humanitarian parole, and other means through which Ukrainians, especially those with family ties or particular protection needs, can come to the United States,” the email said.

In a separate email earlier this week, the agency said those people requiring special protection would include “the most vulnerable among the refugee populations, including LGBTQI+ persons, those with medical needs, third-country nationals, journalists, dissidents, and others who have specific vulnerabilities.”

As they await guidance, resettlement agencies said some Ukrainians who came here as refugees may apply to bring loved ones via the Lautenberg Program, which benefits certain minorities in the former Soviet Union. Congress recently reauthorized the program.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians forced to flee to neighboring countries are running out of funds as the war moves into its second month, said Reifel.

Many would like to eventually return to Ukraine, she said, and just need a place to call home for now.

Reifel said she’d like to see a fast process in which families don’t need to wait, and can simply be allowed temporary visas or humanitarian parole so they can be safe with family here.

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“We're not asking for these people to become a charge of the United States government,” she said. “We can pay for plane tickets. We can pay for housing, we can pay for food. We can help people find jobs. We're not asking for a handout. We just need to get them here. “

At the same time, those who work in resettlement are hoping for support from the federal government after handling the Afghan refugee crisis in recent months, which occurred on the heels of the Trump administration’s near-shutdown of the refugee resettlement system.

“What we have experienced in the last six months has not been the way we want to operate,” said Lilian Alba, vice president of immigrant and refugee services for the International Institute of Los Angeles, a resettlement agency.

Short-staffed agencies had to resettle some 70,000 Afghans nationwide in recent months, she said.

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