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U.S. suspends deportations to Ukraine, Russia and 7 other European countries, citing "humanitarian crisis"

Relatives reunite after fleeing Ukraine
Relatives reunite in Romania after fleeing Ukraine 00:23

The Biden administration has suspended deportation flights to Ukraine, Russia and seven other European countries in the region due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, two people familiar with the pause told CBS News on Thursday.

In a statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed a suspension of deportation flights to Ukraine.

"Amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has paused repatriation flights to Ukraine," an agency spokesperson told CBS News. "ICE will continue to monitor the ongoing situation and make operational changes as necessary."

Congressional officials were informed that ICE also paused deportation flights to Russia and another seven countries, including Belarus, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, a person briefed on the matter told CBS News. 

ICE did not respond to requests to confirm the other deportation pauses. It's unclear how long ICE will halt deportations to the nine countries.

Later on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Ukrainians in the U.S., allowing them to apply for deportation protections and work permits. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the move was justified because of the dire conditions created by "Russia's premeditated and unprovoked attack."

Designed for nationals of countries beset by war, natural disasters or other emergencies, TPS is supposed to be temporary and does not allow beneficiaries to obtain permanent U.S. residency. Ukrainians who arrived in the U.S. after March 1 will not qualify for the program.

An estimated 30,000 Ukrainian-born immigrants in the U.S. could qualify for TPS, including students and others on temporary visas, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Compared to other countries, U.S. deportations to Ukraine are relatively low. In fiscal year 2020, the last one with available statistics, ICE deported 106 Ukrainians, a slight decrease from fiscal year 2019, when 125 immigrants from Ukraine were deported.

In fiscal year 2020, ICE deported 11 immigrants to Belarus, 44 to Georgia, 44 to Hungary, 17 to Moldova, 263 to Romania, 108 to Russia and 12 to Slovakia, agency records show.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a growing humanitarian crisis in the region, with more than 1 million refugees fleeing the violence and crossing Ukraine's borders with its neighbors.

More than half a million people have fled to Poland, 133,000 to Hungary and nearly 100,000 to Moldova, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Slovakia and Romania have received 80,000 and 51,000 refugees, respectively.

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