Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas granted temporary protection Thursday to tens of thousands of Ukrainian nationals already living in the United States, saying the “full-scale Russian military invasion” has caused a “humanitarian crisis” that has made it unsafe for them to return.
“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 Thursday afternoon. “In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States.”
Mayorkas’s move follows calls from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups to grant the special status to Ukrainian citizens in the United States, as Russian President Vladimir Putin wages war on their native country. The European Union granted similar protections to Ukrainians there earlier Thursday, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
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Dozens of senators led by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) wrote a letter to President Biden on Monday urging his administration to grant the protection to immigrants already in the United States.
“After a week of Vladimir Putin’s illegal and ruthless war against the people of Ukraine, I am heartened that the Biden administration is heeding our calls to designate Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status,” Menendez said in a statement.
Among those expected to apply are immigrants who are here legally but fear losing their status when their permission to stay expires. Others are undocumented or facing deportation hearings. Now they will be allowed to apply for temporary protection from deportation, and if approved, work permits, state driver’s licenses and Social Security cards.
Immigrants eligible for TPS must have resided in the United States since March 1, DHS said in the statement, and pass security background checks. Anyone who attempts to travel to the United States after that date may not apply, officials said. The status takes effect once it is published in the Federal Register.
A 1990 law authorizes Homeland Security to designate countries for protected status, allowing nationals to live and work here temporarily during wars, natural disasters or other extraordinary conditions.
Mayorkas said the designation is justified because of the armed conflict, the “largest conventional military action in Europe since World War II,” and the severe damage Russian military forces have inflicted on Ukraine’s infrastructure. Swaths of the country are without electricity, water, shelter, food or emergency medical services.
The United Nations said more than 1 million Ukrainians have fled the brutal military assault in recent days, mostly taking refuge in European nations such as Poland.