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ERLC, others grateful for U.S. grant of protection for Ukrainians

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WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has joined other evangelical organizations in expressing gratitude to the Biden administration for granting Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians in the United States.

The ERLC and nine other members of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) thanked President Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas Monday (March 7) for the decision. In a March 3 announcement, Mayorkas designated Ukraine for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. The designation assures Ukrainians currently in this country they will not be deported but may remain and work in the United States while their country is at war.

Ukraine has been defending itself since the unprovoked Russian military invasion ordered by President Vladimir Putin began Feb. 24.

Russia’s onslaught has caused a mass exodus of people from Ukraine. In the first 12 days of the war, 2 million Ukrainians have fled to other countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday (March 8) on Twitter. The UNHCR had already described it as “the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II.”

In the letter, the coalition said, “The war in Ukraine is a clear example of the sort of situation that Congress had in mind” when it established TPS in a 1990 law. Granting TPS is “an important way that the U.S. can stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” according to the letter. The EIT members also told Biden and Mayorkas they are praying for them as they “navigate this crisis.”

Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s acting president, said in an EIT news release, “America has long been a refuge for those fleeing despots and I’m thankful we haven’t hesitated to open our doors at this moment of chaos in Eastern Europe.

“The world desperately needs a U.S. that is engaged with the international community, responsive to global developments, and welcoming to refugees in need of shelter from tyranny,” he said. “Making this move is one small step that communicates we are doing just that.”

Myal Greene, president of World Relief, said in the release, “Even as we pray for peace and urge neighboring countries in Europe to ensure that no one fleeing persecution is turned away, the U.S. should certainly not be deporting anyone to Ukraine at this time.”

World Relief has resettled more than 7,000 Ukrainian refugees in the United States during the last decade, Greene said.

In the letter, the EIT members acknowledged most of those fleeing Ukraine will go to countries in Europe, but they also urged the officials to continue to rebuild the refugee resettlement program and to expand the ability of the United States to rule on asylum requests justly. This would make it possible “that some of those forced to flee Ukraine – along with those fleeing a credible fear of persecution from other countries – will eventually be able to find refuge in the U.S.,” according to the letter.

The number of those admitted to this country under the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program has declined dramatically the last five years. Only 11,411 refugees were admitted in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2021. That total is the lowest since the 1980 law that established the program.

In October of last year, Biden signed a memorandum authorizing the admission of as many as 125,000 refugees through September 2022. The Biden administration has acknowledged it is unsure it will reach that goal.

The United Nations has defined a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion,” according to its 1951 Refugee Convention.

People who flee their country because of persecution or have a fear of persecution if they return to their country may apply for asylum in the United States in a process that is separate from refugee resettlement, UNHCR reported.

In addition to the ERLC and World Relief, other EIT members signing onto the letter were the National Association of Evangelicals, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, World Vision, Bethany Christian Services, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, The Wesleyan Church and Faith and Community Empowerment.

A country may qualify for TPS designation, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), based on at least one of these three situations: (1) Ongoing armed conflict; (2) environmental disasters; or (3) extraordinary and temporary conditions. People who attempt to travel to the United States after March 1 will be ineligible for TPS, the DHS reported.

Messengers to the 2016 SBC Annual Meeting adopted a resolution that urged Southern Baptist “churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His throne.” Messengers to the 2018 meeting reaffirmed that resolution.