The unfounded attack on the Ukrainian people by Russia and the horrifying humanitarian crisis that is unfolding there come on the heels of another global catastrophe that hit Afghanistan less than a year ago. Though these crises may seem insurmountable to most Americans, elements of immigration laws can be used to bring at-risk people to safety.
While world leaders struggle to find diplomatic solutions, lives are being lost in Ukraine. Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania have given a warm welcome and refuge to many Ukrainians. I believe those who want to come to the U.S. should be afforded the opportunity.
Here are three strategies U.S. leaders could consider:
A B1/B2 visa allows people to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis.
Firstly, anyone in possession of a valid B1/B2 visa should be allowed to enter the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers should be given guidance to allow such visitors to enter without difficulty. Utmost compassion should be extended to them.
Secondly, evacuation of the U.S embassy in Ukraine means that no one can apply for a visa from within the country. Anyone who has the opportunity and ability to apply for a B1/B2 visa at any neighboring embassy should be given compassionate interviews. In fact, the U.S. Department of State should consider waiving those interviews and issue visas promptly. The usual scrutiny should be waived, and as long as Ukrainians have family or friends in the U.S., we should admit them.
Temporary Protected Status
Ukrainians already in the U.S — whether as visitors, students, or under some other visa status — should be allowed to remain here as long as is necessary. The law allows for such measures under the provisions of “temporary protected status” (TPS). TPS is a temporary immigration status provided to people from certain countries experiencing disasters, catastrophes, or other problems that make it difficult or unsafe for their citizens to return home. TPS holders are allowed to work and live here until their TPS status is removed.
There are several grounds under which countries can be designated TPS. One of them is an ongoing armed conflict, such as a civil war, that poses a serious threat to the personal safety of returning nationals. Another is extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent its citizens from safely returning unless the U.S. government finds that permitting these nationals to remain temporarily in the United States is contrary to the U.S. national interest. The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to make such a designation.
We don’t know how long this crisis will last and how it will continue to unfold. As I write this, talks between Ukrainian and Russian leaders have ended, and the delegations are returning home to consult. Yet, Russian forces continue their attack on Ukraine. Providing Ukrainians already in the U.S. with TPS protection will go a long way in bringing security to some people. Since this provision is immediately available, the administration should not delay in making the designation.
Humanitarian Parole Program
We have learned many immigration policy lessons in the aftermath of last summer’s U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resulting disaster that left many Afghans in peril. Those conditions remain ongoing. Applications for humanitarian parole for Afghan nationals have had little success, proof that the individual application process is not the answer in a mass crisis.
For months, immigration advocates have been advocating for something different, a humanitarian parole program, with established parameters that allow certain groups of people into the U.S. rather than filing individual applications for approval as a prerequisite to entry. It’s now past time that we create such a program. The emergency situation in Ukraine necessitates swift action.
DHS has established special parole programs in the past. Examples include the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP) created in 2007 and the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRP) created in 2014.
Given the humanitarian crises we are encountering, it’s important that we seek ways to address novel problems with novel solutions. I believe the administration has stellar leadership at the helm. Though there are many priorities for the DHS to address, saving lives, especially when there are nuclear threats at hand, should rise to the top of the list.
Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law focusing on business immigration. She has been blogging about immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles in many publications. She is the author of Legal Heroes in the Trump Era: Be Inspired. Expand Your Impact. Change the World and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of The Washington Immigrant Defense Network (WIDEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided critical services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina Talks Immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence honoree. Business Insider recently named her as one of the top immigration attorneys in the U.S. that help tech startups. You can reach her by email at [email protected], connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.