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Bipartisan calls mounting for Ukrainian immigrant protections

Lawmakers press the White House to grant TPS to Ukrainian nationals

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is among scores of lawmakers urging temporary deportation protections for Ukrainian nationals in the U.S.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is among scores of lawmakers urging temporary deportation protections for Ukrainian nationals in the U.S. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Joe Biden is facing growing bipartisan calls from Congress to protect tens of thousands of Ukrainian nationals from being deported to a nation under attack by Russia. 

Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, led dozens of senators in a letter to the White House urging the administration to provide Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians, which would give them work authorization and protect them from deportation. 

“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,” they wrote in a letter released Monday evening.  

On the House side, dozens of members signed on to a separate letter from Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., asking the administration to consider “all available pathways under the law” to protect Ukrainians in the U.S.

That could be TPS, Quigley and his bipartisan colleagues said, or Deferred Enforced Departure, which allows the president to exempt individuals from U.S. removal as part of his power to conduct foreign relations.

Around 28,000 Ukrainian nationals living in the U.S. would be eligible for TPS or DED, according to estimates from the Center for Migration Studies of New York.

The Biden administration has declined to say whether it will make a new TPS designation, citing an “interagency process” that must occur before the Department of Homeland Security can designate any country for TPS. 

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she didn’t have an update regarding a TPS designation. But she said the U.S. would accept refugees from Ukraine, although most who have fled Russian violence “will want to be in Europe and neighboring countries.”

The Russian invasion so far has claimed the lives of more than 350 civilians and forced more than 600,000 refugees to flee, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

The White House has announced strict sanctions on the Russian economy and continued efforts to supply the Ukrainian military.  Many lawmakers, particularly those representing large communities of Ukrainian immigrants, are pushing for a greater domestic response as well. 

In a third letter released Monday, 98 House lawmakers led by Reps. Brendan F. Boyle, D-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., urged a new TPS designation for Ukraine as well as Special Student Relief for Ukrainian international students. That move would give roughly 2,000 students in the U.S. additional flexibility in their studies under F-1 student visa requirements. 

“A widespread conflict and refugee crisis like that unfolding in Ukraine is exactly what the TPS and SSR designations were designed for,” they wrote. 

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