The Russian assault on Ukraine intensified last week. 42 senators asked the Biden administration to extend Temporary Protected Status(TPS), to the tens-of thousands of Ukrainians currently residing in the U.S.A. on temporary visas.
TPS, which was created by Congress in 1990,It has been used over the years to grant temporary residency and work permits to individuals already in the U.S.A. from countries that are too dangerous or chaotic to return home to safely. It has been mainly used by Central American refugees fleeing gang violence and political turmoil in recent years.
The request to extend TPS to Ukrainians was marketed as “bipartisan,” but in reality all but two of the senators who supported it were Democrats. Despite the fact that few Republicans signed the letter asking for TPS extension, support for Ukrainians fleeing Russia seems to be widespread in both major political parties. Only a handful of Republican legislators have pushed back against expressions of support for Ukrainian people in the face of military attacks from Russia.
Three days after the letter had been sent, the letter was received on March 3. Biden administration announced that it would, indeed, extend the TPS program,According to senators, it would cover about 30,000 Ukrainians currently in the country as at March 1. Since TPS was not designed as a formal part of the refugee resettlement program, however, it wouldn’t cover arrivals AfterMarch 1: The huge number of Ukrainians who fled their homes in Ukraine by train and bus, on foot, and in cars to refugee camps in eastern Europe are likely to have to go through a more lengthy resettlement process if the goal is to eventually reach the United States. They will however have a much easier path to the country in the years ahead than they did during the Trump presidency’s waves of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war.
The growing consensus in the U.S. and in Europe — that Western countries have a moral obligation to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the artillery, missile and tank bombardment — is a welcome one.
But it is a travesty that the U.S. has not extended the same welcome to Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Central Americans, and others fleeing mass violence — either state-sponsored or at the hands of cartels — desperate poverty and societal collapse.
As several commentators have already noted, many Republicans who are currently calling for the U.S. to welcome in Ukrainians supported Trump’s zero-admissions policies against Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis, and also supported Trump’s efforts to uproot TPS protections for Hondurans, El Salvadorans and Haitians.
Last week Maribel Hastings and David Torres of the pro-immigration reform organization America’s Voice,I wrote a scathing opinion piece in Spanish about the hypocrisy displayed by GOP legislators who waged war against TPS throughout Trump’s presidency, but now support its use during the crisis. “In the recent past,” the authors wrote, “they have done everything in their power to ensure that immigrants from communities of color are not welcomed but rather, the contrary. They want sufficient obstacles to be put in place to dissuade them from coming to the United States, despite the fact that decades of violence in their countries is the most latent threat to their lives and the lives of their families.”
The U-turn on refugees from Ukraine is also in stunning contrast to the ways in which much of Europe, in recent years, battened down its hatches against Syrian and Afghan migrants — the former suffering unspeakable atrocities at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad and the Russian army on the one side, and Islamic fundamentalist groups such as ISIS on the other; and the latter caught between the violence of a U.S.-led occupation and the cruelty of a Taliban insurgency. Europe went out of its ways to stop asylum seekers fleeing violence in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
As recently as November PolandIt sent heavily armed border patrols to stop Afghan refugees entering its territory. As the Syrian refugee crisis grew, so did the need for border guards with heavy armed weapons. HungaryMen, women, and children from refugee communities were tortured, imprisoned, and even gassed. DenmarkThis made it so difficult for refugees to live in the country that only 1,500 people applied last year to stay there under this designation. In the U.K., Boris Johnson’s xenophobic government has spent the past several years designing ever-harsher legislation intended to criminalize and to punish asylum seekers.
These countries are now accepting lighter-skinned Ukrainians, without the use of the same policing strategies they usually employ against refugees of color. However, many of the Ukrainians are now also Africans and Asians, who have been living in Ukraine for a while and often studying at universities there. reporting racist treatment and barriersBoth in Ukraine and in the countries they flee to. The disparity in how the welcome mat is rolled out, depending on the color of one’s skin and the country of one’s origin, continues even under bombardment.
Nearly 2,000,000 Ukrainians have already entered neighboring countries. Many remain in those borderlands: in Poland — where over 1 million arrivals are being processed — in Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia. Others are continuing their westward journey. Germany, in particular has opened its arms again to refugees fleeing conflict, as it did at beginning of the Syrian refugee crises. Even the fascist, antiimmigrant National Front leader of France is open to refugees. Marine Le Pen, who previously was a die-hard fan of Vladimir Putin’s, has advocated taking in refugees from the war.
These shifts could indicate a flickering inhumanistic empathy from politicians in Europe and the U.S. If it is, it is only a flicker. Despite a March 4 court ruling, Title 42 in the United States still allows deportations to continue under the pretext of public health, despite its limitations. In DenmarkThe country continues to work with Syrian refugees to deport them. Australia’s anti-immigrant government continues detaining asylum seekers in a networked of detention centers. However, this is a smaller number than it was a few years back. And across most of Europe. governments continue to crack down on aid organizationsThese organizations provide assistance for asylum seekers.
It remains to see if many of these countries will be willing to change entrenched racist practices in order to extend similar empathy to more racially marginalized refugee refugees who have lost everything to the hands of the powerful over the next few years.