Immigrant advocates cheered the Biden Administration’s move late Thursday to offer Ukrainians Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which will protect those currently in the United States from deportation and provide them with a work permit. Roughly 34,000 Ukrainians will likely benefit, according to the American Immigration Council.
“In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary AlejandroMayorkas said in a public statement.
But immigrant advocates also pointed out that the news underscores substantial flaws with TPS. Like so many other parts of the U.S.’s broken immigration system, TPS originated as a quick fix in the 1990s to temporarily shield people who couldn’t reasonably be returned home because of an “extraordinary” situation, like war or an environmental crisis. It does not offer a pathway to citizenship nor allow recipients to access any public benefits. The designation can last a maximum of 18 months and is reinstated at the discretion of DHS or Congress.
Those under TPS status are often subject to capricious political winds. Beginning in 2017, the Trump administration ended or attempted to end TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan, putting thousands of people at risk of deportation. President Biden Administration reinstated TPS for those nationalities that did lose the status during the Trump Administration.
“The Trump Administration showed quite clearly that Temporary Protected Status is temporary,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, tells TIME. “It can be granted and it can be taken away.”
In May of last year, approximately 320,000 people resided in the U.S. under TPS protection, according to the American Immigration Council. For now, the only people who qualify for TPS are those from Myanmar, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.
TPS is designed to act as a short-term shield, but DHS has often moved to continuously renew TPS designation before it expires if conditions have not changed in a country that has been designated for TPS. Salvadorans, for example, are the first nationality to ever receive TPS designation; some have lived in the U.S. under that designation for more than 20 years. Whether their TPS designation continues is not guaranteed. TPS protections have ended for 12 other nationalities since the program was created.
“TPS has ended in the past and will end in the future for others,” Reichlin-Melnick says. “Unfortunately, the reality is that for Ukrainians granted TPS, that status lasts only 18 months and cannot be counted on to be anything permanent.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Tuesday that now is also moment for Congress to reconsider creating a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders. “If we grant TPS to Ukrainian refugees, this is also an opportunity to finally create a path to citizenship for TPS recipients,” she said.
Immigrant advocates and some lawmakers have echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s sentiment, and are also calling on DHS to consider TPS for other violence-stricken countries like Cameroon and Afghanistan.
“Temporary Protected Status was created by Congress for exactly this purpose—to protect people whose home countries have experienced armed conflict, an environmental disaster or extraordinary conditions that prevent people from safely returning home,” said Sen. Bob Menendez in a public statement. “I will continue to urge the Administration [to] utilize this statute to protect more populations who are unable to return home, including nationals of Cameroon, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.”