Immigrant advocates and rights groups in the United States have called on President Joe Biden’s administration to protect Ukrainians in the US and ensure they are not returned to harm after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“We are demanding that President Biden act immediately and issue Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to all Ukrainians arriving in the US,” Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES, a Texas-based pro-immigrant group, said in a statement on Friday.
TPS would provide Ukrainian nationals with protection from deportation from the US, as well as work permits, while DED is a similar protection measure but is issued by the president.
“Seeking refuge is a human right and the US must meet this moment with rapid action to support all refugees and asylum seekers,” Andiola said.
The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a resettlement agency, made a similar call, arguing that the US government has a responsibility to protect Ukrainian migrants.
“Our thoughts are with all Ukrainians who are currently fleeing their country or seeking shelter,” said the group’s president, Eskinder Negash, in a statement. “Everyone deserves to live with dignity and safety, free of violence and persecution.”
The calls come on the second day of a Russian attack on Ukraine that has seen troops move closer to the capital, Kyiv. Ukrainian officials said dozens of people have been killed so far, while the invasion has spurred international fears of a wider war in Europe.
Some 355,000 Ukrainians live in the US, according to the 2021 US Census, but it is unclear how many would qualify for TPS or DED.
Last year, amid China’s crackdown on protests in Hong Kong, Biden issued DED for 18 months to people from Hong Kong living in the US.
The US Department of Homeland Security secretary has the authority to offer TPS to foreign nationals living in the US if it is determined that their home country is unsafe because of an ongoing armed conflict, a natural disaster, an epidemic, or another “extraordinary” situation.
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On Thursday, the National TPS Alliance and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of more than 500 college and university presidents, also issued statements in support of TPS designations for Ukrainians.
“The situation in Ukraine is a textbook example of an armed conflict and extraordinary conditions that warrant a TPS designation under the law,” said Jose Magana-Salgado, director of policy and communications at the alliance.
Demonstrations were held in several major US cities on Thursday as Russia’s invasion spurred fears among Ukrainian-Americans and Ukrainians living in the US for the safety of their loved ones still in the country.
Hundreds of protesters – many draped in Ukrainian flags, and some chanting “stop the war” – on Thursday marched to the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York City.
“I was born in Ukraine … but today I think everybody is Ukrainian,” Ivana Lotoshynski, a US citizen protesting in Times Square, told the Reuters news agency. “It doesn’t matter where you were born, where you live. People are losing their lives right now. Ukrainians are fighting against this regime from Russia and … it’s really devastating.”
The United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said on Friday that more than 50,000 Ukrainians have fled their country since the start of the Russian invasion. Most have gone to neighbouring Poland and Moldova, some taking only what they could carry and leaving behind possessions and pets.
CBS News, citing two unnamed sources, reported on Thursday that the Biden administration is considering issuing TPS or DED to Ukrainians in the US.
Asked during a news conference that day whether the Biden administration was considering such protections, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said any decision “would be made through an interagency process led by the Department of Homeland Security”.
“I don’t have any kind of prediction of that at this point in time. Obviously … these events are just unfolding as we speak,” she told reporters.
She added that the US expects that most Ukrainians would flee to neighbouring Poland.
“We certainly expect that most if not the majority will want to go to Europe and neighbouring countries,” Psaki said. “So, we are also working with European countries on what the needs are, where there is capacity.”