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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Thursday that it has paused deportation flights to Ukraine — just as lawmakers in Washington D.C. are calling for further protections for Ukrainian nationals.
“Amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis occurring in Ukraine, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has paused repatriation flights to Ukraine,” an ICE spokesperson told WHD News. “ICE will continue to monitor the ongoing situation and make operational changes as necessary.”
The move, first reported by BuzzFeed News, is in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and comes as activists and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for further protections for Ukrainian nationals in the U.S., including the possible use of Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
More than 40 senators, led by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., wrote to President Biden on Tuesday calling for Ukrainian nationals already in the country to be given TPS — which protects nationals of designated countries living in the U.S. from potential deportation if they are eligible and allows them to apply for work permits and to travel freely.
TPS status is granted based on three grounds: armed ongoing conflict, environmental disasters or “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” The lawmakers argued that Ukraine “clearly meets the standard” for TPS given the invasion from Moscow.
“Granting TPS to the limited population of Ukrainians who are currently in the U.S. on a temporary basis will create a minimal disruption for our country, but forcing these individuals to return to a war zone would be unacceptable,” the senators wrote.
“Forcing Ukrainian nationals to return to Ukraine in the midst of a war would be inconsistent with America’s values and our national security interests,” they said. “As a nation, we must do our part to protect the safety of Ukrainians in the United States by designating Ukraine for TPS.”
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The letter cites State Department figures that 29,510 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas were issued to Ukrainians in FY 2020.
A DHS spokesperson told WHD News last week that it continues to monitor conditions in various countries across the globe but had no announcements at that time.