The Biden administration is considering protecting certain Ukrainians living in the U.S. from deportation due to Russia's military attack against Ukraine, two people familiar with the deliberations told CBS News Thursday.
The deportation relief could be authorized through a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) order by President Biden, the sources said, requesting anonymity to discuss ongoing discussions.
U.S. immigration law authorizes the DHS secretary to offer TPS to immigrants in the U.S. if it is determined that their home countries are unable to safely accept deportees because of armed conflict, natural disasters, an epidemic or other "extraordinary" emergencies.
DED, a similar policy, also offers temporary deportation protections to immigrants from a specific country or region. But unlike TPS, it is authorized by the president. Both programs also allow beneficiaries to apply for work permits.
An estimated 355,000 Ukrainian immigrants reside in the U.S., according to government estimates. The Migration Policy Institute estimated Thursday that roughly 30,000 Ukrainians could be eligible for TPS or DED because they are neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents.
Potential beneficiaries could include Ukrainians with temporary U.S. visas, including students at American universities, as well as those without legal status. Both temporary deportation relief programs would not benefit new arrivals from Ukraine, where millions of refugees could be displaced due to the armed conflict with Russia, according to a U.S. assessment.
Asked earlier Thursday whether the administration would grant TPS to Ukrainians, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that would be a decision "made through an interagency process led by the Department of Homeland Security."
"I don't have any kind of prediction of that at this point in time," Psaki said. Representatives for the White House and DHS said they did not have any policy announcements to make at this time.
"As is always the case, we continue to closely monitor conditions in various countries across the globe," DHS said in a statement earlier Thursday.
DHS needs to consult with the State Department before extending TPS to a new country, but the president is not required to do so for a DED designation, which is typically enacted through an executive order.
As the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine deepened on Thursday following a military offensive by Russian forces, groups of refugee and immigrant advocates called on the administration to shield Ukrainians in the U.S. from deportation.
On Thursday night, the calls were echoed by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called on DHS to announce a TPS designation "promptly."
"The war in Ukraine is exactly the type of crisis TPS was created for—to allow people to live and work in the United States when they are unable to return home safely," Menendez said.
As part of its immigration crackdown, the Trump administration sought to limit the use of TPS and moved to end Obama-era designations for hundreds of thousands of immigrants residing in the U.S.; though its efforts were stalled by federal court rulings.
The Biden administration has, on the other hand, expanded TPS eligibility to more than 400,000 immigrants, including Venezuelans and Haitians who fled the respective political and economic calamities that have beset their homelands in recent years.
Mr. Biden also offered DED protections to residents of Hong Kong last summer, citing a crackdown against pro-democracy protests.
Advocates have also asked DHS to grant Ukrainian students Special Student Relief, which would reduce course load requirements and allow them to work more hours. There were 1,739 Ukrainians in the U.S. on student visas during the 2020 - 2021 academic year, government figures show.
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