Ukrainians living in U.S. given temporary legal status

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration offered humanitarian relief to Ukrainians in the United States on Thursday, which could protect thousands from being deported to their war-torn homeland.

Ukrainians can remain for up to 18 months under the federal program known as Temporary Protected Status. In order to be eligible for the protection, individuals would have to have been in the U.S. since at least Tuesday.

“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence” that has forced Ukrainians “to seek refuge in other countries,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said.

The program is for people fleeing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or extraordinary and temporary conditions. As many as 30,000 Ukrainians may benefit, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Pressure had been mounting on the Biden administration from lawmakers from both parties, including the Senate’s top Democrat, to grant the status to Ukrainians following Russia’s invasion of their country.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “after a week of Vladimir Putin’s illegal and ruthless war against the people of Ukraine,” it was the right thing to do.

He said he was heartened that “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.”

Refugee advocates also applauded the move. More than 177 organizations signed a letter sent to the administration last week requesting Ukrainians be offered the relief.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called it “a concrete show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Protecting Ukrainian families from deportation is the least we can do amid a Russian onslaught that has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

Citizens from a dozen countries are in the United States under the program that former President Donald Trump sought to curtail amid criticism of frequent extensions that have enabled people to live in the U.S. for years in a kind of legal limbo.

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