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Biden’s new Uniting for Ukraine program leaves some war refugees stranded at the border

Today marks the beginning of the Biden Administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program. The program is meant to streamline the immigration process by connecting Ukrainian war refugees with American sponsors. But KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis says it also blocks Ukrainians from entering the United States through land borders.

Approximately 30 Ukrainian war refugees are stranded in Tijuana. They flew into the border city Monday morning, the day a new Biden administration policy prevents them from crossing the border to seek refuge.

More than 12,000 other Ukrainians have previously made the trip. They flew from Europe to Mexico, landed in Tijuana and walked into San Diego. But that migration route into the U.S. ended Monday morning.

That’s because the Biden Administration launched a new program to help Ukrainian nationals seek refuge in the United States.


The program, Uniting for Ukraine, streamlines the immigration process by connecting war refugees to American sponsors. Ukrainians can apply online from Europe and fly directly to the United States once they are approved.

But the program also prevents Ukrainians from coming into the United States through the southern border.

“Ukrainians should not travel to Mexico to pursue entry into the United States,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. “Ukrainians who present at land U.S. ports of entry without a valid visa or without pre-authorization to travel in the United States through Uniting for Ukraine will be denied entry and referred to apply through this program.”

In Tijuana, groups of desperate Ukrainian nationals rushed to cross the border before midnight Sunday.

Enrique Lucero, director of the city’s Migrant Affairs Department, said anyone who arrives after Monday morning will not be able to cross the border.


“The border is now closed to Ukrainians,” he said.

Volunteer organizations are setting up a shelter for Ukrainians in Mexico City, where they will be able to apply for the Uniting for Ukraine program.

Lucero said the stranded migrants have a couple of options.

They can either fly to Mexico City and apply for the program and request asylum in Mexico, or wait until May 23 when the federal government is scheduled to lift a pandemic-era travel restriction that has kept hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from entering the country, he said.

Lucero said Tijuana officials are encouraging Ukrainians in Tijuana to go to Mexico City.

He anticipates the number of Ukrainians in Tijuana to decrease because of the Uniting for Ukraine program.

Biden’s new Uniting for Ukraine program leaves some war refugees stranded at the border