ILJ-MI’s Traverse City Office a Beacon of Hope for Ukrainian Immigrants

tc staff 9 2023

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Traverse City office of Immigration Law & Justice Michigan has served over 100 new Ukrainian clients. From those seeking temporary refuge from the war to those looking for longer stays, the legal staff has counseled them about their limited options.

The Grand Traverse region includes the largest population of Ukrainians in the state of Michigan. Many of them have been trying to provide a safe haven for family and friends fleeing the war. Marcelo Betti, ILJ-MI Legal Co-Director and TC attorney, reached out to local Ukrainians during the war’s first weeks to provide detailed information about how to help.

Most new Ukrainian clients arrive as part of the “Uniting of Ukraine” program (U4U). It authorizes Ukrainians who were displaced by the war to be paroled into the U.S. for a period of two years for humanitarian reasons.

One major obstacle to qualifying for the U4U program is the requirement for a financial sponsor based in the U.S. This can present issues for Ukrainians with few contacts or family in this country. The T.C. office has been helping sponsors, many of whom are members of the local Ukrainian community, to bring in friends and relatives. The staff also helps sponsored individuals acquire employment authorization documents after their arrival.

There are growing concerns about the U4U parole program because it will begin to expire for clients in 2024. With no updates from the Biden administration or Congress on its continuation, many Ukrainian refugees are unprotected.

“This is especially frustrating for our local Ukrainian community members, many of whom arrived in the United States as religious refugees and were able to quickly obtain permanent resident status (green card). The fact that their newly arrived Ukrainian friends and relatives do not currently have a clear avenue toward a green card is confusing and something we hope that Congress will remedy soon,” Betti said. 

A temporary solution to help Ukrainian clients whose humanitarian parole status may expire next year is the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) humanitarian registration. Although TPS is not a permanent immigration solution, it is a more well-established program than U4U and therefore may offer longer-term refuge for Ukrainians. 

“We expect that there will be a large influx of TPS cases starting in the summer of 2024, when the two-year parole for our early U4U clients will expire. It is unclear whether the Biden administration will allow the renewal or extension of these clients’ parole status. If it does not, then our U4U clients will need to apply for TPS to keep lawful status and employment authorization in the U.S. We’ve already begun helping Ukrainian clients apply for Temporary Protected Status,” Betti said. 

Newly hired Legal Assistant Carolina Iaconelli, a former client of the Traverse City office, understands first-hand the anxieties that come along with transitioning into the U. S. “I understand how unique the immigration experience can be—a combination of uncertainties, anxiety and homesickness as you try to rebuild your entire life. Now, as I embark on my own career with ILJ-MI, they’re giving me the opportunity to give back to my community and use my own experience to become a support system for our clients,” Iaconelli said.

Alline Beutler, Community Relations Manager, has been involved with the TC office since helping to establish it eight years ago.

“I’m grateful for the supporters and funders that have helped the Traverse City ILJ-MI office get to the strong position we are in now. It is wonderful that our organization was ready to step up and help when the need for free immigration legal services in Traverse City rose significantly after the start of the war in Ukraine,” Beutler said.

The Traverse City office served 333 clients from 42 countries from August 2022 to August 2023. The Ukrainian clients have comprised almost a third of the office’s workload during that time.


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