Refugee Council USA experts respond to Biden administration’s announcement of Ukrainian parole program

Washington, DC – Today, John Slocum, Executive Director of RCUSA; Melanie Nezer, Senior VP of Global Public Affairs for HIAS; Rachel Peric, Executive Director of Welcoming America; Dauda Sesay, Vice Chair Board of Directors for Refugee Congress, and National Network Director for African Communities Together (ACT); Jenny Yang, Senior VP of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief; and Sunil Varghese, Policy Director of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) gathered to respond to the Biden administration’s announcement of Uniting for Ukraine

Uniting for Ukraine emphasizes the use of humanitarian parole for Ukrainians who have been displaced by Russia’s invasion and are seeking refuge in the United States. Ukrainians can be sponsored, or “named,” by US citizens or organizations who are able to take fiscal responsibility for Ukrainians brought in through parole. The administration indicated that alongside this parole program, they would seek to expand the use of the US Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP), particularly the Lautenberg program, in order to find the most fitting pathways for vulnerable Ukrainians.

RCUSA welcomes news that there will be multiple pathways available to Ukrainians seeking refuge; however, RCUSA maintains that any parole program should include access to essential social services and a pathway to more permanent relief should it be unsafe for parolees to return home. Moreover, the Biden administration should fund, prioritize and expand USRAP and the US asylum system to ensure that the United States’ humanitarian responses are equitable and accessible.

RCUSA sent a letter to President Biden with recommendations on how USRAP can and should be utilized during this emergency.

Find quotes from expert panelists below and the full recording accessed here:

John Slocum, Executive Director for RCUSA

“Our response to this plan as a coalition of refugee serving organizations is ‘yes, AND.’ Yes, this is a welcomed program AND there are pieces of it that we want to make sure are either in place or added – or that the program is complemented by…. It is important to value the preferences and the agency of displaced persons under any circumstances.”

Melanie Nezer, Senior VP of Global Public Affairs for HIAS

“If the US is saying that it has the capacity to do the security reviews and vetting, that they can make sure that people are vaccinated and tested for COVID, the question becomes ‘why wouldn’t we bring them through the US refugee program? If not now, when?’ The big distinctions between parole and the refugee program are benefits to help people get on their feet, and agency, choice, control – all the things that refugees have lost. Why wouldn’t we as a country offer them permanent status, and give people a real choice, so they could choose to go home if and when they can. We would be much better partners in the global response if we gave people the option to come through the US refugee program.”

Rachel Peric, Executive Director for Welcoming America

“We know that humanitarian parole can be life saving, but we also need avenues like resettlement that are life affirming and protect our core democratic values, which is why we are calling on the administration to invest in ensuring that access to benefits, future pathways and community capacity to welcome our reflected in the approach to that’s being taken with respect to Ukrainians and other at risk populations. … All of us deserve to thrive and belong in the places we call home, no matter where we have come from. And we believe that the federal government should follow and support the leadership of communities and the American public to ensure that our nation’s approach to those seeking our protection also protects a value that we hold sacred, that our access to the American dream is one that should never be defined or limited by our race, origin or creed.”

Dauda Sesay, Vice Chair of Board of Directors for Refugee Congress, and National Network Director of African Communities Together

“The world is focused on Ukraine but let’s remember there are other nations as well, especially in Africa, especially Black migrants that are experiencing the same traumatic situation. So we hope that the administration and our elected officials will provide an equitable distribution, equal pathway to safety for all refugees and asylum seekers seeking safety and running for their lives. … As a former refugee and someone who has experienced significant trauma, someone who lost family members, someone that suffered, was harmed through war, left to die, someone that escaped death, I know exactly the pain those Ukrainians are going through right now, and all other immigrants, especially Black refugees seeking protection.”

Sunil Varghese, Director of Policy for the International Refugee Assistance Project

“We want to make sure that the resources and focus on a parole program today don’t take away from the investment and rebuilding of the US Refugee Admissions Program that needs investment both in the US, but also in overseas processing. That way refugees can quickly go through the refugee process and the US can respond to large scale displacement in a more  responsive way rather than through these temporary processes like parole… People in vulnerable situations who may not yet have US connections should still be able to access safety. And the US should ensure that sponsors are encouraged to sponsor those who are most in need – that there is some sort of matching for people who might not have those US connections. This includes LGBTQ people who are not safe in neighboring countries, people with disabilities, people subject to detention in certain countries in Europe and third country nationals who may be more vulnerable than others, despite any sort of temporary protection in Ukraine.”

Jenny Yang, Senior VP of Policy and Advocacy for World Relief

“We welcome the announcement by the administration of the various immigration pathways for Ukrainians to come to the United States. And at the same time, it’s critically important that any immigration pathway including the use of parole leads to a permanent pathway towards citizenship with appropriate support for Ukrainians who wish to remain in the US. Also, this announcement demonstrates that the administration has the creative capacity to utilize the US asylum and refugee programs to help vulnerable populations around the world. The US should more consistently apply the principles of protection to assist not only Ukrainians, but others who are in need of asylum and protection.”

Media Contact: Sarah Seniuk,

RCUSA is a diverse coalition advocating for just and humane laws and policies, and the promotion of dialogue and communication among government, civil society, and those who need protection and welcome. Individual RCUSA members do not all address all refugee-related issues, nor do all individual members approach common refugee-related issues identically.