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U.S. offers temporary legal status to Ukrainians, citing Russian attack

1 million refugees have fled Ukraine
1 million refugees have fled Ukraine 02:06

The Biden administration on Thursday offered tens of thousands of Ukrainians living in the U.S. a temporary humanitarian protection from deportation due to the ongoing Russian military offensive in Ukraine.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas created an 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Ukrainians who have lived in the U.S. since March 1, allowing eligible people to apply for work permits and deportation protections.

"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," Mayorkas said in a statement. "In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States."

The TPS designation is expected to benefit 75,100 Ukrainians in the U.S., according to a DHS estimate, including those on temporary student, tourist or business visas, which could lapse while fighting continues between the Russian military and forces defending Ukraine. Ukrainians who are in the U.S. without legal permission could also qualify.

Approximately 4,000 Ukrainians are facing U.S. deportation proceedings, including nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers, according to immigration court data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University.

Designed for foreigners from countries plagued by war, natural calamities or other crises, TPS does not grant beneficiaries permanent U.S. status. It also only applies to people already in the U.S., not future arrivals from Ukraine, which has seen more than 1 million of its citizens flee to neighboring countries.

DHS said the conditions in Ukraine justified a TPS designation, noting the Russian military offensive triggered "the largest conventional military action in Europe since World War II." The conflict, the department added, has led to food and water shortages, and prevented many Ukrainians from accessing medical services and shelter. 

Demonstrators Protest Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Outside United Nations
Demonstrators during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.  Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine late last month, bipartisan groups of lawmakers in Congress and refugee advocates mounted a vocal advocacy campaign to pressure the Biden administration to shield Ukrainians in the U.S. from deportation.

"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," New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.

Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the administration to also extend TPS protections to immigrants from Cameroon, Ethiopia and Afghanistan living in the U.S. "The United States must continue to lead the world as a safe haven for migrants who are unable to return home due to ongoing conflict and environmental disasters," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, CBS News reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suspended deportations to Ukraine, Russia and seven other European countries.

The Trump administration, which argued TPS was extended longer than appropriate for a temporary program, moved to end several country designations, threatening to strip deportation protections from hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the U.S. However, its efforts were stymied by court rulings.

The Biden administration, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to use its TPS authority more broadly, allowing an additional 400,000 immigrants to apply for the program, including Haitian and Venezuelan exiles who fled the political and economic crises in their home countries.

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