DHS grants temporary immigration status to all Ukrainians in the US

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
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For the next 18 months, Ukrainians already in the United States will be allowed to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday designated Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that protects foreign nationals from deportation to countries that have undergone natural or human-made disasters.

"Russia's premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

"In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States," he added.

The Biden administration had earlier vowed not to deport people to Ukraine, Russia and seven other European countries in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The TPS designation comes after significant political pressure from top Democrats and some Republicans, who had called on President Biden to include Ukraine in the humanitarian program.

"After a week of Vladimir Putin's illegal and ruthless war against the people of Ukraine, I am heartened that Biden administration is heeding our calls to designate Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status," said Sen. Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"As a result of today's decision, President Biden is once again making clear the United States will not relent in its support for the people of Ukraine in this dark moment in history," Menéndez added.

Earlier this week, Menéndez, along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), led 39 senators in a letter calling on Biden to designate Ukraine for TPS.

Democrats are increasingly bullish about TPS designations, which have allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to work in the United States, albeit under a temporary status that does not allow an easy transition to permanent residence.

California Democrats Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chairs of the immigration subcommittees in their respective chambers of Congress, jointly celebrated Mayorkas's announcement.

"We're grateful to see the Biden Administration heed our calls and take swift, just action to grant Ukrainian nationals in the United States with protection from deportation to a country currently under a brutal, unprovoked assault by Vladimir Putin. Our prayers are with the people of Ukraine and we continue to stand firmly behind them as they defend their home and their democracy," they wrote.

More than 300,000 foreign nationals are currently in the country under TPS; the Ukrainian designation could add up to 30,000 people to that number.

"This is great news even if it is long overdue. It is necessary but still not sufficient. We hope President Biden takes additional action, and more swiftly, to assist the millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives," said Doris Landaverde, the national spokesperson for the National TPS Alliance.

"The days ahead will be the measure of President Biden's presidency," added Landaverde, a TPS beneficiary.

The Biden administration has also granted new TPS designations to Venezuela and Sudan, and it added a new designation over Haiti's preexisting TPS status that greatly expanded the number of Haitians eligible for protections.

Still, the Biden administration has resisted issuing new designations for a handful of countries for which former President Trump tried to end TPS.

The original designation for Haiti, as well as those of El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal and Nicaragua, are currently only active because of a court injunction invalidating Trump's order to repeal them.

Nicole Melaku, the executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans commended the Ukrainian designation, but called for expansions of the program to protect nationals of certain African countries.

"We also call for DHS to create and expand TPS protections for Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, countries that were devastated by environmental disasters. The decisions to grant TPS should not perpetuate long standing racial inequities in immigration enforcement and benefits," Melaku said.

Prominent Democrats joined the call to include more African and Asian countries in the program, particularly war-torn nations that receive less media attention than Ukraine.

"The Biden Admin should also designate TPS for non-white war-stricken countries like Ethiopia, Cameroon, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Mali and others," tweeted Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Menéndez also called on Biden to expand TPS.

"I will continue to urge the Administration utilize this statute to protect more populations who are unable to return home, including nationals from Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan," he said.

"Today, as the Biden administration renews its commitment to protect refugees and asylum seekers in the post-Trump era and works to fulfill its promise to welcome migrants fleeing danger at our own borders, I join in commending this important TPS designation and look forward to seeing our economy and communities strengthened by it," he added.