Goldman: Freedom’s Beacon Fading: A Guide to Being a Refugee in 2022

Mo Goldman

Special for TucsonSentinel.com

Mo Goldman is a Tucson attorney specializing in immigration law.

President Ronald Reagan once proudly said, “America is a shining city on a hill whose beacon of light guides freedom-loving people everywhere. The immigrant family gazes at the Statue of Liberty and their revitalized dreams of a new life.

In 2022, this lighthouse is so dim that hardly anyone can see it. The immigrant family stares at a wall. A nightmare looms before them.

If you doubt the American lighthouse needs a new bulb, ask any Ukrainian seeking protection from Putin’s tyranny. It is a perilous journey with many obstacles and uncertainties. One that all refugees must try to overcome once they reach the soil of this country…if they reach the soil of this country.

To illustrate the absurdity of US immigration laws today and the need to fix the dysfunctional system that has become increasingly xenophobic over the past few decades, allow me to provide you with a series of questions that I receive almost daily since the invasion by Russia (these questions and answers can in fact apply to anyone fleeing their country):

Q: How can my friend and his family legally obtain visas to the United States so that they can seek refuge and safety? I am ready to provide them with a roof over their heads and sponsor them until they can settle down and find one or more jobs.

A: Obtaining an entry visa is not so easy. There is no “refugee visa” available for people fleeing war or other forms of oppression. Most people should apply for a visitor/tourist visa, but there is a catch: the law requires that they intend to return to their country of origin and that they have an “intent of non-immigration”. “. So good luck getting a B-1/B-2 visa when you are forcibly displaced as we have seen in many countries around the world. There are also only limited appointments available at U.S. Embassies around the world.

Q: Wait. You mean they need a visa in their passport to come to the United States? Isn’t the United States waiving the visa requirement for certain people?

A: The United States has a visa waiver program (called “ESTA”). However, this only applies to certain countries. This does not include Ukrainians, Afghans, Syrians, Haitians, Guatemalans or people from other countries who have fled or are fleeing persecution, imminent danger or death. Canada has opened channels allowing Ukrainians to arrive visa-free. The United States, the light dimming flagship, did not.

Q: What if our friends arrive in Mexico. Can’t they just show up at the US border and claim asylum?

A: Unfortunately, the United States still has the public health policy, Title 42, in place that deports migrants on the grounds that they may be carriers of COVID-19. Until this is lifted, they may be denied admission. This applies to all migrants. Also keep in mind that if you come to the border and ask for protection, the US Department of Homeland Security may detain and detain you for a potentially long period of time. So it carries some risk.

Q: My friends came to the United States on visitor visas. They arrived on March 4, 2022. Can they obtain Temporary Protected Status (TPS)? We heard that the United States granted TPS to Ukrainians.

A: Sorry. They arrived too late to qualify. Ukraine’s TPS requires all applicants to have been in the United States since March 1, 2022. If the Department of Homeland Security redesignates Ukraine with a new effective date, they may qualify. But, for now, they are not eligible for TPS.

Q: I read online that there is a possibility to apply for humanitarian parole for displaced persons. Is it true?

Humanitarian parole is available for those seeking admission to the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or an important public interest. However, this is technically a “temporary period” and may be declined for this reason. Plus, it costs a government fee of $575 and there are tens of thousands of these applications currently in the queue (many of them for Afghans) and DHS is slow to review them.

Q: But won’t most Ukrainians be eligible for TPS with this effective date?

A: Yes, that doesn’t make sense.

Q: My friends are safe in the United States; can they work or at least get a driver’s license?

A: Sorry, they can’t get a work permit… yet. Also, most likely, they can’t get a driver’s license. If they are eligible for TPS, they can apply for a work permit. However, this could take several months and possibly more than a year. They will not be able to legally work in the United States during this time. If they apply for asylum, they have to wait 150 days before they can even apply for a work permit, and it’s hard to estimate how long it will take them to get the permit after applying, and then hopefully their driver’s license and a social security number. .

Q: So basically you’re telling me they’re running from one nightmare only to get stuck in another kind of bureaucratic nightmare? How can they survive if they can’t get a paid job or a driver’s license or a social security number?

A: Unfortunately, it is. How many immigrants who come to the United States survive? Circumstances and the terrible immigration policy force them to work in secret and to be paid in cash.

Perhaps the crisis in Ukraine will force the US government to consider overhauling a completely flawed immigration system? It is hoped that our elected and appointed leaders will take note and find simple solutions to these problems. Here are some suggestions:

  • Allow the visa waiver option in times of crisis for countries with tens of thousands (or millions) of displaced citizens. Recent examples include Afghanistan and Ukraine. Simply require those fleeing to have a willing sponsor to help them settle. Many people would gladly open their doors to these people.
  • Make humanitarian parole more accessible and judged more quickly.
  • Update the effective date of TPS so many more people are eligible. Right now, that doesn’t even make sense.
  • End Title 42 evictions.
  • Amend employment/work authorization regulations to temporarily allow individuals to be authorized to work once they are admitted to the United States. Let them work while they wait for background checks and any other necessary clearances. Even if they get a one-year work permit, that’s a good start. Why force them to work outside the books or seek other ways to survive and feed their families?
  • Value the economic benefit that immigrants bring to this country rather than focusing on the negative. The positives far outweigh it.

The faded beacon could yet reignite with bold leadership, strong change and welcoming policies. The US immigration system currently forces people to try to find loopholes or any other way to enter the country or survive here. This encourages activity that is not considered legal, but when legal avenues are few and the barriers discussed above exist, there are no good options available. Change has to happen, and it has to happen now.

Mo Goldman is a Tucson attorney specializing in immigration law.

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