‘Here, we are getting used to another rhythm. Everything is moving quickly, quickly, quickly.’
Like Afghans, Ukrainians who make it into the United States are offered humanitarian parole. Afghan refugees like Khurami and Jamalzada were given priority for work permits and help from resettlement agencies. Uniting for Ukraine, however, does not offer initial resettlement support, and it is unclear whether applications for work authorization will be prioritized. Where authorization used to be processed in a matter of weeks, it now takes anywhere from eight to 15 months. “These policies are reactive — that’s why you see everything looking a little different,” said Melanie Nezer, the senior vice president for global public affairs at HIAS, referring to the discrepancies between policies for Afghans and Ukrainians. “This is a new way of doing resettlement.” A reliance on sponsors has the positive effect of building community support for new arrivals, she said. “But,” she added, “it is not the refugee program. It is not the same.”
Arsirii’s parents, who moved to the United States years ago, helped book her a ticket from Poland to Cancún, and an aunt, also in the United States, donated additional money for the trip. From Cancún, Arsirii purchased a ticket to Tijuana, where she met a group of Ukrainian Americans who offered to drive her and Karolina to the border. Information came in disordered chunks, one fact at a time, like a puzzle she was expected to solve without having all the pieces. At the U.S. border with Mexico, she was detained for a night and then let out on humanitarian parole with her release papers.
Arsirii then flew to Brooklyn, joining her parents in their studio apartment overlooking Avenue X. She and her daughter slept at one end of the studio, her parents at the other. They fell asleep and woke up every morning gazing at each other from across the room. “It took me two weeks to even realize where I was,” Arsirii told me through a translator. “My mother encouraged me to leave the house. She took me walking in Brooklyn. We went to other neighborhoods.”
A family friend introduced Arsirii to an immigration lawyer, who helped her apply for temporary protected status, a designation that comes with a work permit and can allow a migrant to stay in the country for up to 18 months. A volunteer was also translating documents to help Arsirii enroll her daughter in school. But pieces of the puzzle were still missing.
“I know that health care is very expensive here,” she told me. “But I don’t know how it works. I know there are organizations to help. But what organizations? It’s the information that is important — and where to get the information. Information is crucial.”
Arsirii had long dreamed of coming to the United States under different circumstances. She would have liked to walk around the city, to take its measure and decide whether it was the place for her. “There is a very specific rhythm here,” she said. In Ukraine, she explained, people have more time to talk. She would get home from work and have tea with friends. Her daughter could play in a central courtyard while she occasionally checked in from her apartment window. “Here, we are getting used to another rhythm,” she said. “Everything is moving quickly, quickly, quickly.”