The images from Ukraine are horrific. Our hearts are broken by such widespread destruction and indiscriminate warfare. Many folks alive today never have witnessed war at quite this scale. The fact that it seems so unprovoked and unjust makes it even more shocking. The whim of an isolated madman.
The millions of people now fleeing the attacks is a rare phenomenon — for Europeans.
In the last 20 years, we’ve seen many similar mass migration events — in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Central America. In some cases, the bombs, rockets and drones from which they fled were labeled U.S.A. Many others were fleeing dictators, economic collapse, environmental disasters such as famine exacerbated by climate change, or cartel violence their government was unable or unwilling to stop.
In Ukraine, the enemy is clear. They wear a foreign uniform, drive tanks, launch rockets and jets from Russia and follow the commands of Vladimir Putin.
It is much harder to identify the neighbor who just gave in and joined the cartel. When your government is powerless to stop violence, or your police force is corrupt, it is more akin to civil war.
In Putin, Ukrainians are threatened by a mob boss with tanks instead of hitmen from their own neighborhood. You seem to get less sympathy when your tormentors are homegrown.
Not every president displays the courage and selflessness of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. Imagine having a president more concerned with enriching himself or working in concert with shadowy figures who flaunt the rule of law.
On March 24, the Biden administration committed to accepting 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing for their lives. This is right and good. It will take real effort and resources. As Elket Rodriguez reported last week, hundreds of Ukrainians already have made their way to our southern border and are being fed, sheltered, welcomed and prayed for by the network of pastors Fellowship Southwest has supported for years. They feel called to offer Christian hospitality, and we feel blessed to support them.
After sharing a hot meal and perhaps receiving a backpack of supplies that your contributions helped provide, blond-haired, blue-eyed Ukrainians will get up and walk past families from El Salvador, Honduras or Venezuela who have been waiting at the border for months subject to Title 42 or MPP. Ukrainians will instead be granted almost immediate entry to the U.S. and given “humanitarian parole” while they await the opportunity to claim asylum or perhaps the time when it is safe to return home.
“Blond-haired, blue-eyed Ukrainians will get up and walk past families from El Salvador, Honduras or Venezuela who have been waiting at the border for months subject to Title 42 or MPP.”
Why the difference? A common and easily recognizable enemy in Putin certainly helps. Worldwide sympathy is with his victims.
Another reason is race. Without question, Ukrainians are not perceived as an undesirable threat. I’ve yet to hear them compared to venomous snakes, described as rapists or called bad hombres. I’ve also never heard anyone question how much it will cost to accept them, wonder if they’ll take our jobs, or call them a drain on our society.
It is so much easier to dehumanize those who appear as other.
The threat of violence is no less real from a cartel member than from a Russian bomb. In fact, it is more personal and less random. So many migrants we’ve met at the border already have had a family member killed and have been told directly that they are next.
Unfortunately, even with evidence of an immediate threat, very few migrants are likely to be granted asylum — only 37% of all applicants as of 2021.
This outcome is our choice. Public policy is a moral decision. Who is worthy, acceptable and deserving? Whose testimony do we believe? What circumstance is dire enough that migrants should be given a chance at what we already have?
“The threat of violence is no less real from a cartel member than from a Russian bomb.”
The Biden administration has decided 100,000 Ukrainians are worthy. I’m grateful they made that choice. Fellowship Southwest joined a letter signed by 700 faith leaders and groups applauding Biden’s plans to welcome Ukrainian refugees while urging him to further extend welcome without discrimination.
I’m also glad they have proposed new asylum processes that should expedite consideration and plan to wind down Title 42 in the coming months.
Where there is political will, there is a way. We can make different choices. It takes the voices and votes of millions of Americans who are fed up with the status quo. It takes politicians who decide it is their job to help solve a humanitarian crisis rather than blame the opposition and maintain an inhumane but politically advantageous system.
The massive overhaul needed to fix an immigration system broken from top to bottom will be hard. Deciding that everyone deserves to be treated with the same dignity and empathy we’ve shown Ukrainians should be easy.
Stephen Reeves serves as executive director of Fellowship Southwest.