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Biden Administration Moves to Protect Myanmar Nationals Residing in US

FILE - Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 28, 2021.
FILE - Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 28, 2021.

Nearly four months after a coup in Myanmar triggered a prolonged period of violence and upheaval in the country, the Biden administration has designated Myanmar nationals for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), allowing many in the U.S. to be shielded from deportation and obtain work permits.

The registration period is set from May 25 to November 22. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that about 1,600 Burmese nationals "continuously residing" in the U.S. since March 11 now can obtain protected status.

“Due to the military coup and security forces’ brutal violence against civilians, the people of Burma are suffering a complex and deteriorating humanitarian crisis in many parts of the country,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

The decision about Myanmar, also known as Burma, came after a “thorough review of this dire situation,” Mayorkas added.

The United Nations has denounced Myanmar’s military leaders, known as the State Administrative Council (SAC), who seized power in a coup in February and since then have launched an intensive crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.

The coup took place hours before the seating of a new parliament following election results that were seen as rejection to the country’s generals. Security forces reportedly have killed dozens of protesters since the coup.

Here in the U.S., the temporary protected status will last 18 months. According to DHS, in addition to demonstrating continuous residence in the United States since March 11, 2021, applicants must undergo security and background checks.

But the department added that border restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic remain in place, and citizens still in Myanmar "should not believe smugglers or others claiming the border is now open."

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that her organization has resettled in the U.S. about 7,000 Burmese nationals over a period of years.

In a statement, Vignarajah commended the Biden administration for extending humanitarian protection to Myanmar nationals.

“Burmese nationals in the U.S. are unable to safely return home because of rampant human rights abuses at the hands of the country’s military. This designation recognizes that we cannot in good conscience deport families to a crisis zone where violence, religious persecution of both Christian and Muslim minorities, and a de-facto forced-assimilation policy, still reign,” Vignarajah said.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a research center that collects and analyzes immigration court activities, recent data showed there were 602 Burmese nationals facing deportation in U.S. immigration courts. In the 2019 fiscal year, 28 Burmese citizens were deported.