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Former top immigration officials ask Biden to grant protection to Ukrainians in US

Malka Shahar in the library at the Pinnacle Tower in Sunny Isles, Florida, Feb. 24, 2022. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

Two former top U.S. immigration officials urged President Joe Biden on Sunday to extend immigration protections to eligible Ukrainians in the United States, following the Russian military invasion of the Eastern European nation.

Emilio T. González, the head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under former President George W. Bush, and Leon Rodriguez, who headed the agency under former President Barack Obama, asked Biden in a one-page letter to give Ukrainian nationals in the U.S. Temporary Protection Status.

Members of the Ukrainian and Russian communities in South Florida gathered in front of Hallandale Beach City Hall in support of Ukraine. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

“As former Directors of [Citizenship and Immigration Services] we know well the extreme circumstances that go into declaring TPS for foreign nationals from deserving countries,” reads the letter from the men, who are both Cuban American and from Miami.

TPS allows people from nations in turmoil to temporarily live and work in the United States and protects them from deportation. The Biden administration has already granted the designation to Venezuelans and Haitians, who became eligible for the program in the spring of last year. Citizens from other nations, including Myanmar, Yemen and Somalia, have also benefited from TPS designations and extensions since Biden took office. While the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security designates who is eligible for TPS, it is Citizenship and Immigration Services that reviews and accepts applications.

A man holds a No War banner in front of Hallandale Beach City Hall. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

González called offering TPS to Ukrainians an “apolitical and necessary idea.”

“This is what TPS was created for,” he said. “This is a humanitarian act that is deserved and the law allows it. It is something that we must push. We have a moral duty to help this way.”

In the early hours of Thursday, Russia launched a full-scale invasion to occupy neighboring Ukraine, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The ongoing conflict has led about 368,000 people to leave Ukraine as of Sunday, tweeted Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees have crossed into Poland, Hungary, Moldova and Romania, among other countries.

Members of the Ukrainian and Russian communities in South Florida gathered in front of Hallandale Beach City Hall in support of Ukraine. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

“Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of the Ukraine has created untold turmoil, death, and destruction for the Ukrainian people. The current unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is a classic example of the type that led Congress to legislate TPS,” reads the letter from the two men.

Approximately 355,000 Ukrainian-born people live in the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Since the conflict began, several U.S.-based immigration advocacy and services groups have called on the Biden administration to issue TPS for Ukrainians along with other forms of immigration relief.

A woman holds a sign as others wave banners during a pro Ukrainian rally. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

The National TPS Alliance, a national group led by beneficiaries of TPS, said the White House “has a responsibility to all migrants fleeing from political conflict.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants issued a statement asking for TPS as well as Deferred Enforced Departure and Special Student Relief, other types of immigration assistance.

“The humanitarian implications of the aggression against the Ukrainian people should be the main priority in the response by the United States and the international community,” said the statement from the committee.

In South Florida, other people have joined calls to support Ukraine. At a public rally on Friday in Hallandale Beach, which has a large population of both Ukrainians and Russians, protesters dressed in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and carried signs that said “Putin Back off” and “Stop Putin, Stop War.”

Alena Yurchenco, who is originally from Russia, holds a “No War” homemade sign during a demonstration. (Jose A Iglesias/el Nuevo Herald/TNS)

Rodriguez, a Miami-raised immigration lawyer who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, said he was “horrified and outraged” about what is happening in Ukraine. He told the Miami Herald he has been receiving calls from people with relatives in Ukraine looking for help. He added that the conflict recalled “pain and memories” among Cubans in the United States.

“As Cuban Americans, we certainly are a community that has experienced aggression and oppression coming from now the former Soviet Union,” Rodriguez said.

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