In the last year, thousands of people have been killed in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, with over ten thousand injured and almost one million Ukrainians displaced.
Indeed, the conflict marked its one year anniversary with reports of more Ukrainian soldiers being killed.
The harshness of the conflict and the fear it instills in civilians was brought home to me last week when I got a call from a woman named Iryna.
She has two small children in Mariupol, Ukraine.
She complained that, not far away, Russian soldiers were gathering for what she believed was an upcoming invasion heading towards her home in Mariupol, a city that has been in the news a lot lately.
The crisis has now reached stalemate.
The ceasefire brokered by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in mid-February is still in force, though deaths are reported almost daily among Ukrainian soldiers, civilians and rebels.
Large swaths of the industrial east, including and Luhansk, are under the control of the rebels and Kiev fears they could be preparing to try to take Mariupol, a city of 500,000 people.
Iryna asked me if there was anything I could do to help her family escape any upcoming attacks.
The sad reality was that there was nothing practical that I could offer to her.
This got me thinking about the assistance that Western countries have given to people affected by war and environmental disasters, such as the Vietnamese boat people, Haitian earthquake survivors and victims of the current Syrian conflict.
The U.S. should adopt some similar immigration programs to help relieve Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis.
It can be argued that adopting the following measures would be in America’s national interest because, in the absence of a military help, it would restore a sense of America’s pro-active leadership in the face of Russian aggression.
Public Announcement of Immigration Relief
The initial step needed is a public statement by President Obama recognizing the growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and declaring American support for the victims of the hostilities.
Such a statement should indicate that American officials will, at the very least, review immigration applications from Ukrainians in the United States and at U.S. consulates overseas with extra compassion and empathy.
Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) Reforms
This is an area of current American immigration policy that can help Ukrainians in the U.S.
It needs no new initiative other than educating the local Ukrainian-American community of how it can help them.
DAPA and DACA could benefit some Ukrainians currently in the United States.
DAPA is designed to help illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for five years or more and who a) have a child born in the U.S. or b) a child that has become a U.S. permanent resident or citizen (due to a U.S. citizen’s spousal sponsorship for example).
Such individuals can obtain a three-year work permit and be relieved from the fear of removal during that time.
Similarly, under DACA, any illegal immigrant who has been in the United States for five years or more who was under 16 years of age at the time of arrival is also eligible for a three-year work permit and relief from removal for the same period.
Obtaining legal status and the right to legally work will relieve some Ukrainians of the fear of being returned to a potentially perilous situation in Ukraine where, even in the best of circumstances, they may no longer have a home or employment or both.
It will also simultaneously assist in relieving the pressure on Ukraine’s strained and overburdened social welfare system as it deals with a humanitarian crisis of great magnitude.
Temporary Protected Status
Pursuant to the provisions of its Immigration and Nationality Act, the U.S. should declare that Ukrainians currently legally in the United States and who may arrive in the foreseeable future have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a period of up to 18 months.
Such individuals should be granted work permits and be protected from removal for failure to return to Ukraine.
Such a measure would help Ukraine by not adding to an already impossible burden in dealing with hundreds of thousands internal refugees.
Temporary Protected Status is nothing new.
As mentioned, it has been used for victims of such environmental disasters as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, as well as armed conflicts like the Syrian Civil War.
Longer Term Permanent Residence Policy – Families Affected by the Conflict in Ukraine
Finally, any Ukrainian immigrants who had approved petitions to immigrate to the United States at the time of the Crimean invasion or since and who are waiting for visas to become available, should now be approved on an expedited basis.
Such Ukrainians should be given humanitarian parole and allowed to come to the United States as soon as possible.
Similar measures could be adopted by Canada and other Western countries.
That would help increase the financial remittances sent back to Ukraine and thus provide critical help as the nation tries to rebuild.
Given the fact that, according to NATO, Ukraine is the only partner country that has contributed to all ongoing NATO-led operations – including sacrificing the lives of its soldiers over the last 20 years – Ukraine appears to be especially worthy of such immigration-based humanitarian support.