President Joe Biden recently announced that his administration would open a variety of means of entry to the United States for nearly 100,000 Ukrainian immigrants seeking asylum from the violent conflict in their country. The president said Ukrainian refugees would receive Temporary Protected Status, which would prevent them from being deported. Biden’s plan will focus on Ukrainians who have family members in the United States. But the announcement has many immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean questioning why they have not been offered similar consideration.
Critics of Biden’s plan point out that Haitians who endured the assassination of their president in July of 2021 and a deadly earthquake one month later have been the victim of racist U.S. immigration policies that leave them with few options. “The reality is that all over the world, unfortunately, there are many people who are experiencing similar things and don’t get that type of urgency from the U.S. government or attention,” said Samah Sisay, a Liberian immigrant who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Sisay points out the double standard in U.S. immigration policy, noting that because Ukrainians are Europeans, they are not viewed as a threat in the same way African refugees are.
Even African citizens in Ukraine have experienced racism as they try to escape the violence of the war. Many have encountered physical abuse and have been blocked from boarding trains leaving the war-torn region. In March, an international group of civil rights lawyers said they plan to file an appeal to the U.N. on behalf of Black refugees being discriminated against while trying to escape Ukraine.
Some U.S. politicians are trying to push the conversation on the treatment of Black immigrants to the forefront. On March 15, United States Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) and Mondaire Jones (D-New York) wrote a letter asking the administration to stop deporting Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S. In the letter, the representatives point out that the country has deported over 20,000 Haitian refugees since September 2021. According to a Pew Research Center study of census data, one in 10 Black people in the United States are immigrants, a number which is expected to increase.
In addition to protecting Ukrainian refugees from deportation, the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) would allow them to receive a work permit and travel for up to 18 months. Cameroonians, who have been seeking refuge from a deadly civil war in their country which began in 2017, have sought that same consideration from the United States for years. “We’ve always known that African, Black people always get the worst of the worst,” said Sylvie Bello, founder of the Cameroon American Council. “Ukraine has TPS after days of conflict, and there’s no Cameroonian TPS after five years. That discrimination should not come as a shock because every other program within American immigration justice is anti-Black, anti-African. … Why is it that Black pain doesn’t meet restitution and immigration relief?”
A DHS spokesperson responded to NBC News’ request for comment with an email which read in part, “TPS designations are decided after careful consideration and consultation with interagency partners.”