Give Ukrainians temporary immigration protections, senators ask Biden 

Refugees from Ukraine arrive at Przemyśl Główny train station in eastern Poland Caritas Poland.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine means that Ukrainians in the United States deserve temporary protected status under federal immigration law, 39 U.S. senators said in a Monday letter to President Joe Biden.

“Ukraine clearly meets the standard for (temporary protected status) as it is obviously too dangerous for Ukrainian nationals to return to Ukraine due to the ongoing armed conflict,” the senators’ Feb. 28 message said. 

The letter cited the Russian military strikes against major Ukrainian cities, the hundreds of civilian deaths, and U.S. officials’ beliefs that Russia plans to “decapitate the Ukrainian government.”  

Dave Cronin, a senior policy and legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services whose focus is migration and refugee policy, backed the proposal.

“Not only could the bombing and shelling of Ukrainian cities threaten many more lives, but it could further threaten vital infrastructure like roads, schools, and hospitals. Supplies like food and water could soon become scarce,” Cronin told CNA March 1. “It’s no wonder we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs. Even if the war were to end tomorrow, the recovery could take months, if not years.”

“As such, we believe that in addition to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians in need, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to provide temporary humanitarian protection to Ukrainian nationals presently in the U.S.,” Cronin said. “That’s why we support designating Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status.”

Eligible nationals of countries with temporary protections may remain in the U.S. legally and may access a work permit until the designation expires. The U.S. government may declare this designation for foreign nationals in cases where returning to their country poses “a serious threat to their personal safety” due to ongoing armed conflict, the temporary effects of an environmental disaster, or other “extraordinary and temporary conditions,” the senators’ letter to Biden said.

In fiscal year 2020, 29,510 non-immigrant visas went to Ukrainian nationals, according to the U.S. State Department. Temporary protected status is eligible to a limited number of individuals, like students, business travelers, and tourists. 

“Granting TPS to the limited population of Ukrainians who are currently in the U.S. on a temporary basis will create a minimal disruption for our country, but forcing these individuals to return to a war zone would be unacceptable,” the senators’ letter said. “Forcing Ukrainian nationals to return to Ukraine in the midst of a war would be inconsistent with America’s values and our national security interests. As a nation, we must do our part to protect the safety of Ukrainians in the United States by designating Ukraine for TPS.”

Among the 39 senators signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Menendez is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Portman is the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Durbin and Portman co-chair the Senate Ukraine Congress.

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