Provide temporary protection to Ukrainians, but do it the right way

Associated Press

Congress established Temporary Protected Status (TPS) more than 30 years ago to address exactly the sort of situation that is playing out in Ukraine today. An estimated 30,000 Ukrainian citizens are believed to be in the United States on some sort of temporary visa, or here illegally. A percentage of those Ukrainians may want to get home right now to join the resistance to Russia’s military invasion and subjugation of their homeland, or to be with their families in a time of crisis.

Others will choose to remain here beyond the terms of their visas. As long as Russian missiles are flying and tanks are rolling, we cannot ethically compel them to go home. This is why our government granted Ukrainian nationals TPS yesterday, permitting them to remain here and with work authorization for 18 months. 

The United States is a compassionate nation. The idea of granting temporary refuge to people whose country is being invaded militarily by a malevolent expansionist neighbor would be entirely uncontroversial. But because of flagrant long-term abuse of the TPS program — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — and the raging crisis at the U.S. southern border created by the Biden administration, TPS for Ukrainian nationals rightfully faces some skepticism.

Yesterday’s TPS designation for Ukraine must be offset by some confidence-boosting measures to assure the American public that they will not be taken advantage of once again, and that the administration will act decisively to halt an unprecedented surge of migrants entering the country illegally.

For starters, Ukraine’s TPS designation should be followed by a clear statement of what conditions in Ukraine would constitute grounds for extending that status beyond the initial 18 months. In almost every instance in which the U.S. has granted TPS in the past, the status has been repeatedly extended based on vague assertions that conditions in the home country were not quite right, or that the country was not yet prepared to accept the return of its citizens and has become dependent on the remittances they send home.

Ending TPS should not require that the home country turn into a Garden of Eden. It requires that the immediate threats to life and safety brought on by war, political upheaval, or natural disaster no longer exist — a much lower bar.

A second act of good faith that our government can make to the American public is to end TPS for countries that have had their status repeatedly extended, long after the crisis created by the triggering event had passed. In the case of Honduras, for example, the destructive hurricane that led to the initial grant of TPS occurred a quarter-century ago.  

Additionally, the Biden administration should renounce efforts to grant amnesty for longtime TPS beneficiaries. Doing so would reaffirm that “temporary” means temporary and that we expect that those who avail themselves of our protection honor their commitments to return home when the crisis passes, even if circumstances are not ideal.

Finally, the Biden administration must move decisively to restore order at the U.S. southern border and reinstate meaningful enforcement of our immigration laws. For context, the 30,000 Ukrainians who might qualify for TPS amount to about five days’ worth of migrants from Central or South America our Border Patrol encounters, while countless more enter undetected.

While Americans are generally supportive of offering temporary protection to people whose country is being overrun by a despotic ruler who threatens global stability, they also expect that our own president will make a good-faith effort to end wholesale abuse of our nation’s border and immigration laws.

Providing temporary protection to those facing imminent threats is the right thing to do — and we have done that consistently. Ending those temporary protections when the threat has passed is also the right thing to do — and we have consistently failed to do that. As we consider our humanitarian response to the crisis in Ukraine, we also must act to ensure that the interests of the American public are honored.

Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington, D.C. Follow on Twitter @FAIRImmigration.

Tags Russian invasion of Ukraine Temporary protected status US border crisis

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