U.S. to extend legal stay of Ukrainian refugees processed along Mexican border

The Biden administration is allowing thousands of Ukrainian refugees who were processed along the southern border after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to remain and work in the U.S. legally for at least another year, according to a government notice obtained by CBS News.

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and displaced millions of refugees, thousands of Ukrainians flew to Mexico seeking to enter the U.S. along the southern border, mainly in California. In a few weeks, U.S. border officials allowed more than 20,000 Ukrainians to enter the country, exempting them from a pandemic restriction known as Title 42 that has blocked hundreds of thousands of migrants from staying in the U.S.

The ad hoc process along the U.S.-Mexico border was shut down in late April after the Biden administration created a formal program for displaced Ukrainians to fly to the U.S. directly if they had American sponsors. Under that program, known as Uniting for Ukraine, more than 118,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S.

While both populations were allowed to enter the country under a humanitarian immigration authority known as parole, the Ukrainians brought to the U.S. under the Uniting for Ukraine policy have received two-year grants of parole. Those processed along the southern border were granted parole for 12 months, meaning that their temporary permission to live and work in the US. was set to expire this spring.

But under a policy announced Monday, the government will consider extending by one year the parole grant of Ukrainians who were processed along the southern border between Feb. 24 and April 25, 2022. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects to review these cases in four weeks, according to the notice. Those approved will be able to download their updated parole grants online. 

In a statement, Homeland Security spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández confirmed the policy change.

“As Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the unprecedented humanitarian crisis it has caused continue, DHS assesses that there remain urgent humanitarian reasons, as well as a significant public benefit, for extending the parole of certain Ukrainians and family members on a case-by-case basis to align with the parole provided under Uniting for Ukraine,” Fernández Hernández said.

Ukrainians who are seeking asylum in the United States gather in a city government shelter for Ukrainians on April 7, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico.
Ukrainians who are seeking asylum in the United States gather in a city government shelter for Ukrainians on April 7, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico.

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Ukrainians who have lived in the U.S. since April 19 can also apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that allows immigrants from crisis-stricken countries to obtain work permits and deportation protections. Like parole, however, TPS is temporary and does not offer recipients permanent legal status.

While U.S. government officials have said most Ukrainians wish to return to Ukraine, it’s unclear when the fighting there will cease. Those seeking to remain in the U.S. permanently must apply for asylum or other immigration benefits, like family-based green cards, to remain in the U.S. legally.

The announcement Monday could prove to be a test case for how the Biden administration handles the temporary legal status of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants it has allowed to enter the U.S. under the parole authority. 

In addition to the tens of thousands of Ukrainians paroled into the U.S. since last year, the Biden administration used the parole authority to admit more than 70,000 Afghan evacuees following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. More recently, as part of an effort to deter illegal border crossings, the administration has granted parole to thousands of migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela with U.S. sponsors. 

Unlike other immigration benefits, there’s no straightforward way for immigrants paroled at airports to request an extension of their legal permission to stay in the U.S., since they are processed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a law enforcement agency that does not typically adjudicate applications.

Afghans relocated to the U.S. under the parole process will start to lose their deportation protections and work permits this summer, and only a small number of them have secured permanent legal status through applications for asylum or special visas for wartime allies, according to data published by CBS News.

While a bipartisan group of members of Congress have proposed to make Afghan evacuees eligible for permanent residency, a bill to do so, dubbed the Afghan Adjustment Act, has failed to gain enough support from Republican lawmakers. 

Advocates have urged the Biden administration to extend the parole grants of Afghans to provide more time for Congress to act or for evacuees to apply for asylum or other immigration benefits.

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