March 25, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The Biden administration plans to allow 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to come to the United States. That is a significant development since, in a typical year, the U.S. does not accept 100,000 refugees from all countries combined, and this would allow that number from a single country.

“Many Ukrainian refugees will wish to stay in Europe closer to their homes, but we will also welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States with a focus on reuniting families,” President Joe Biden said.

The U.S. will send $1 billion to help European countries absorb the rush of refugees from the Russian invasion. The administration has repeatedly said most refugees will stay and want to stay in Europe, closer to their home.

There are some unanswered questions about how the refugee program would work. Some options:

  • The U.S. has a formal refugee resettlement program. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement says, “The Refugee Act of 1980 created The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program to provide for the effective resettlement of refugees and to assist them to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after arrival in the United States.”
  • The U.S. has a “humanitarian parole” process. This is for refugees who need pro­tec­tion due to per­se­cu­tion or fear of per­se­cu­tion ​“on account of race, reli­gion, nation­al­i­ty and/​or mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar social group or polit­i­cal opin­ion.” Asy­lum seek­ers sub­mit appli­ca­tions at a port of entry to the U.S. or when they are already in the coun­try. We often see this as the way that people on the southern border try to enter the U.S. from Central America.
  • The U.S. could create a separate track just for Ukrainian refugees.

(Migration Policy Institute)

The Migration Policy Institute says:

While the United States has historically led the world in refugee resettlement numbers, admissions fell dramatically under President Donald Trump, whose administration increased vetting procedures and reduced the number of refugees accepted annually to record lows. In 2018 the United States fell behind Canada as the top resettlement country globally.

President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to reverse this trend and, after initial wavering, in early May increased the limit for resettlement of refugees in FY 2021, which runs through September, from the historically low 15,000 set by Trump to 62,500. Biden also pledged 125,000 resettlement places in FY 2022.

A Biden promise to allow 100,000 Ukrainian refugees would essentially be a pledge to double his original.

(Migration Policy Institute)

Refugees often go where they have connections. As you might imagine, more populous states take in more refugees than rural states. The Migration Policy Institute notes:

Arriving refugees are placed in communities based on factors including their needs, family ties, and the receiving community’s language and health-care services, housing availability, educational and job opportunities, and cost of living. Since 2015, some states and localities have become increasingly vocal about having greater input in the resettlement process, citing concerns such as limited federal funding, use of local resources, and potential national-security threats. President Trump tried to require states to opt into the refugee resettlement program, but his executive order was blocked by a federal court.

(Migration Policy Institute)

The Ukrainian refugee story may be an opportunity to explore how the United States is a nation built by immigrants. As Pew reports:

The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s migrants. The population of immigrants is also very diverse, with just about every country in the world represented among U.S. immigrants.

(Pew Research Center)

It seems that most of the conversation about immigration centers on unauthorized immigrants. But that skews the statistics. As Pew reports, “Most immigrants (77%) are in the country legally, while almost a quarter are unauthorized, according to new Pew Research Center estimates based on census data adjusted for undercount.”

(Pew Research Center)

In 2017, 45% of immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens. Pew calculates:

Mexico is the top origin country of the U.S. immigrant population. In 2018, roughly 11.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. were from there, accounting for 25% of all U.S. immigrants.

The next largest origin groups were those from

  • China (6%)
  • India (6%)
  • the Philippines (4%)
  • El Salvador (3%)
  • By region of birth, immigrants from Asia combined accounted for 28% of all immigrants, close to the share of immigrants from Mexico (25%). Other regions make up smaller shares: Europe, Canada and other North America (13%), the Caribbean (10%), Central America (8%), South America (7%), the Middle East and North Africa (4%) and sub-Saharan Africa (5%).

In recent years, the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. has dramatically dropped:

The number of refugee admissions in the U.S. from the fiscal year of 1990 to the fiscal year of 2021 (Statista)

(Pew Research Center)

The Annie E. Casey Foundation provides some context about the size of America’s current immigrant population.

(The Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Biden warns of ‘real food shortages’ because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Biden said the world will experience “real food shortages” because of the interruption of the wheat and corn exports from Ukraine and Russia. He said the U.S. and Canada will attempt to increase production and urged nations to drop trade restrictions that make food supplies more expensive and more difficult to trade. More than two dozen African and Middle Eastern countries get more than half of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine.

Airlines ask Biden to drop mask mandates

Passengers rush to check-in their luggage at Miami International Airport Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The heads of 10 U.S.-based airlines — including Delta, American and United Airlines — sent a letter to President Biden asking him to drop the federal mandate for masks that protect against COVID-19. They wrote that “international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”

The letter said, “It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now. This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being.” Read the letter here.

ProPublica keeps probing St. Jude’s fundraising, this time focusing on lawsuits over wills

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital usually enjoys something of an untouchable status in media coverage. The Memphis charity hospital for children with cancer also enjoys the support of Hollywood celebs who lend their name to the cause. You see the touching commercials on TV all the time.

ProPublica has been investigating the hospital, which raised $7.5 billion in five years. The news organization reports that about 20% of the donations come in the form of bequests. The story explores the sometimes-messy lawsuits that the hospital gets involved with when it believes that a donor who has died meant to leave funds for St. Jude, but a family member intervenes.

The story includes this interesting passage:

“A legal fight could mar the reputation of a charity,” said Elizabeth Carter, a law professor at Louisiana State University who specializes in estate planning. “A lot of charities decide it is just not worth it; we don’t need that bad press. Occasionally you will see them fighting it, but not often because of the bad PR that comes from it.”

In a statement issued through its fundraising arm, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, or ALSAC, St. Jude said its bequest program “operates with the highest ethical standards and with bequest program best practices like other large charities.”

But it declined to answer specific questions about its bequest program, including how many cases are in litigation, or to respond in detail to questions about individual cases in which it has contested wills.

In 2017, Fred Jones, the ALSAC lawyer who oversees bequest matters, told an Oklahoma court that the charity was involved in more than 100 legal fights over disputed estates. Jones said many of those involved other parties challenging an estate in which St. Jude had an interest, but that it did pursue legal action on its own in some cases. Jones said St. Jude received about 2,000 new bequests in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. In a statement, ALSAC said it litigates less than less than 1% of the thousands of estate donations that it receives.

I share this ProPublica work for a couple of reasons. First, it is a reminder that journalists have an obligation to examine even popular charities that do good work.

Second, the story makes me wonder how often charities get involved in these kinds of estate battles. I wonder if universities have similar fights, for example, since schools often get significant bequests. While suing a family over a retracted bequest might look bad, families are full of greedy people too, and sometimes when money is involved, they might try to keep it when the deceased clearly wanted to go to someone else. So, the charity may have a moral obligation to try to carry out the donor’s wishes.

And third, when a news organization examines a charity and finds out it does great work on a razor’s edge budget, we should report that, too. I call that investigating “right-doing” as opposed to “wrong-doing.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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  • Glad to see so many are coming here to Texas. As the son of a Ukrainian immigrant I can tell you … we’re good people! 🙂