U.S. lawyers line up to aid Ukrainians with immigration relief

March 23 – Nearly 2,000 lawyers at more than 100 law firms and companies are preparing to help Ukrainians living in the United States obtain temporary deportation relief and work permits as part of a volunteer effort organized by law firm Kirkland & Ellis and the non-profit Lawyers for Good Government.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration earlier this month said Ukrainians in the United States would be able to apply for Temporary Protected Status, a form of immigration relief that would allow them to stay and work in the country.

The administration estimates 75,000 Ukrainians will be eligible for the program. While they can apply on their own, a lawyer can help them navigate the process and advise on other immigration relief that may be available, said Jacqueline Haberfeld, Kirkland’s pro bono counsel and a coordinator of the Ukraine effort.

“If you have questions about the questions” on the form to seek protected status, “you’re going to need a lawyer,” Haberfeld said. For instance, the form asks applicants if they are trained to use weapons, but doesn’t explain how or where to answer, she said.

The number of volunteers was swelling on Tuesday, growing to 1,958 by the afternoon, said Traci Feit Love, founder, president and executive director of Lawyers for Good Government. So far the attorneys come from 76 law firms and 38 companies, she said.

Haberfeld and Love said they have worked together for years on other projects and were thinking of ideas relating to TPS legal assistance for Ukrainians when Haberfeld called Love.

“We’re used to running these projects in this way,” Love said. “We have an idea, one of us gives the other a call.”

Haberfeld sits on Lawyers for Good Government’s board, as do lawyers from Baker & Hostetler, Cohen & Siegel and Kelley Drye & Warren. Kirkland, founded in Chicago, is the highest-grossing law firm in the United States. Its website lists more than 3,000 lawyers worldwide.

Temporary Protected Status gives immigrants who cannot return to their countries safely due to extraordinary circumstances such as violent conflict or natural disasters the ability to stay and work in the United States legally for a defined period of time.

More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded Feb. 24, with civilian and military casualties continuing to mount in the country.

Love said the project will be ready to go live within a “few business days,” but is waiting for the Biden administration to take a formal step to grant Ukrainians TPS relief for 18 months. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TPS program, did not respond to a request for comment on the timeline.