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Bipartisan group of senators ask Biden to shield Ukrainians from deportation

U.N. agency says 500,000 Ukrainians have fled
United Nations refugee agency reports 500,000 Ukrainians have fled the country 04:30

A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers asked President Biden on Monday to temporarily shield Ukrainians living in the U.S. from deportation, citing the dangerous conditions in Ukraine, which is under a large-scale Russian military attack.

Forty-two senators — 40 Democrats and two Republicans — said the Biden administration should offer Ukrainians in the U.S. access to Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a humanitarian deportation relief program for immigrants whose native countries have been beset by war, natural disasters or other crises.

The ongoing Russian military offensive in Ukraine has made it "too dangerous" for deportees to return there, the lawmakers told Mr. Biden in a letter, led by Senators Dick Durbin, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

"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," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers noted that a TPS designation would benefit a "limited population," citing government figures that show nearly 30,000 Ukrainians were granted temporary U.S. visas during fiscal year 2020. They include Ukrainian students, business travelers and tourists.

Amid pressure from advocates, Biden administration officials at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have been considering offering TPS or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), a similar deportation relief policy, to Ukrainians in the U.S., CBS News reported last week.

People protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a rally across from the White House, in Washington, D.C.. on February 28, 2022.  BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives is also planning to send a letter to Mr. Biden urging his administration to grant TPS or DED to Ukrainians, according to Democratic Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley.

"In this time of crisis, we must reaffirm our commitment to America's most sacred values and ensure Ukrainian nationals are provided a safe haven," reads a draft of the letter obtained by CBS News.

Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there were no updates regarding a potential TPS designation for Ukraine, reiterating that the decision to approve such a program involves an inter-agency process.  

In addition to shielding them from deportation, TPS or DED would also allow eligible Ukrainians already in the U.S. to apply for temporary work permits. Both policies have eligibility requirements, and do not apply to people convicted of certain crimes.

The deportation relief programs, if granted, would also exclude new arrivals from Ukraine, which has already seen more than 520,000 of its citizens flee to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, according to figures from the United Nations refugee agency.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said Monday that up to 4 million people could flee the conflict in Ukraine in the coming weeks in what threatens to become the largest European refugee crisis since the Balkans war.

While it has voiced support for resettling Ukrainian refugees, the Biden administration has said the vast majority of people displaced from Ukraine will likely settle in other European countries. 

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