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U.S. relief for Ukrainians exposes glaring immigration inequality

The Biden administration will grant Ukrainians protection to remain in the country. People who escaped largely nonwhite countries deserve the same.


The Biden administration on Thursday announced it will grant temporary protected status to some Ukrainians living in the United States as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued into its second week.

The news comes after a group of senators — mostly Democrats with a couple Republicans sprinkled in — sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday asking him to shield Ukrainians from deportation.

On a personal level, it’s a moral conundrum. On a national level, it’s a threat to the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts.

In their letter, the senators wrote that it's "important to note that designating Ukraine for TPS will not endanger our security.” 

“Granting TPS to the limited population of Ukrainians who are currently in the U.S. on a temporary basis will create a minimal disruption for our country, but forcing these individuals to return to a war zone would be unacceptable," the letter stated.

These are righteous declarations of humanity that should be applauded. But the remarks — much like the news coverage from across the globe showing sympathy toward Ukrainian refugees — highlights differences in how white migrants are treated compared to nonwhite ones. People who have escaped war-torn countries such as Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Cameroon are still struggling to get temporary protected status in the United States.

That Ukrainians were granted protected status so quickly is no fault of their own. But the disparate treatment threatens to drive an unnecessary wedge between them and advocates of nonwhite people from other countries who’ve been calling on the Biden administration to recognize their urgent request for protection.

Africans have accused Ukrainian authorities of stalling their attempts to flee the country, while helping white people escape. These reports have already complicated some nonwhite people’s view of the humanitarian response. Here, I’m speaking of people forced to balance their compassion for Ukrainians seeking refuge with their rage over racial inequality in immigration enforcement. 

On a personal level, it’s a moral conundrum. On a national level, it’s a threat to the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts. The Biden administration can go a long way toward resolving this dilemma by making sure its care for refugees is evenly applied, and not merely focused on Ukrainians unfairly seen by some as more acceptable than their darker-skinned counterparts.