Northbrook immigration attorney Gene Meltser is working to help Ukrainians living in the United States, many of them on temporary visas that are expiring, so they are not deported while their country is at war with Russia.

Attorneys, advocates and bipartisan groups of elected officials are urging President Joe Biden and the Department of Homeland Security to grant Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians facing deportation to remain in the U.S. while their country is engulfed in military conflict.

"There's a list of countries that qualify for that. Ukraine is obviously not on the list because of the recency of the conflict," Meltser said. "But the conflict is not dying down, it's getting worse. ... I'm in constant contact with people in Ukraine, especially in Kyiv and Kharkov, and it's absolutely horrific."

While judges can delay deportation hearings due to the situation in Ukraine, TPS would allow citizens of that country to temporarily remain in the U.S. legally.

"There's no home to go back to in some cases, or there's no way of getting to Ukraine because of the current situation," Meltser said. "There has to be a legal way to deal with the situation rather than just string it along.

Since 7 a.m. Feb. 24, his office has been receiving hundreds of calls each day, both from Ukrainians in the U.S. seeking to remain in the country temporarily, and from people in Ukraine seeking to enter the U.S. to escape the conflict.

Meltser stressed that TPS is not a path to citizenship. If Ukrainians living in the U.S. were to receive TPS status, they would have to undergo an application process, and the Department of Homeland Security would review applications on a case-by-case basis.

"We're seeking a general designation. 'You're a citizen of Ukraine; you can apply.' There's nothing automatic about the status," Meltser said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, an online petition titled "Grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Ukrainians NOW!" has received over 2,000 signatures, Meltser said.

The petition will help create awareness, Meltser said, and he hopes people urge their elected officials to help Ukrainians obtain TPS.

"Right now, nothing's changed," he said. "When I say 'nothing's changed,' I refer to U.S. law that governs the situation."

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