The US Department of State has recently called on governments around the world to implement the promises they have made to protect stateless people, people who, according to the UN definition, are “not considered nationals by any State by virtue of its law”. .
But there are an estimated 200,000 stateless people in the US, and they too need protection. I know because I am one of them.
Yes, I am stateless, a citizen of nowhere.
I was born in what is now Ukraine to a family of mixed Armenian and Ukrainian descent. We faced discrimination due to our ethnicity in the Soviet Union, so we headed to North America to build a better life for ourselves. There, unfortunately, our asylum application would be denied.
When the Iron Curtain collapsed and Ukraine became an independent nation, my parents and I became stateless. We have never lived in post-independence Ukraine, so it does not recognize us as citizens.
I am currently allowed to work in the US as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, but recent court decisions have called into question the future of DACA and my ability to work in this country. Since I do not have a passport, I cannot leave the United States.
Despite the many uncertainties in my future and the many restrictions I face in my life due to my statelessness, I know that there are stateless people in this country who are going through even more difficult struggles than I am.
Many stateless people in the US, for example, are not eligible for DACA and therefore cannot legally work in the country. Some end up in immigration detention and find themselves stuck there for years because they have no homeland to which they can be deported.
Currently, there is no legislation in the United States that allows stateless persons to regularize their immigration status. This means that few stateless people in the country have a legal path to citizenship.
For most stateless people in the US to exercise their human right to a nationality, Congress would have to pass specific legislation. Until then, all we can do is try to secure discretionary decisions that ease our daily struggles and hope for the best.
I found the recent statement by the US government urging all governments to implement the promises they made to stateless people surprising, as it has yet to deliver on one of those promises.
On December 15, 2021, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its commitment to “adopt a definition of statelessness for immigration purposes and enhance protections for stateless persons living in the United States”.
In April 2022, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas affirmed this commitment during an appearance on PBS NewsHour, noting that his department would “move with the urgency that vulnerabilities warrant” and aimed to “deliver on that this year.” , this fiscal year.
The fiscal year that Secretary Mayorkas listed as the deadline for the action ended last month. However, stateless people continue to live in legal limbo and face extreme vulnerabilities.
The US government, of course, already has the authority to assess whether a noncitizen is stateless and to consider statelessness as a factor in its decisions to award benefits or exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis. By taking such simple steps, the authorities could extend a lifeline to thousands of people stuck in legal limbo, including me.
In April 2023, my American husband and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. However, despite being married to a US citizen for nearly a decade, I can only apply for a green card based on my marriage if the US government entered the US without authorization from a US citizen. immigration officer to stay here legally for a certain period of time.
I submitted an application for parole effective January 2022, but have yet to receive a response. Obtaining this status would change my life completely. It would eventually allow me to become a citizen of the country I have lived in since I was eight years old. So I was able to get a passport and finally visit my Ukrainian relatives, now displaced all over Europe. I could even make a pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland, Armenia.
Putting myself, someone who came to this country as a child, on this relatively easy path to citizenship is entirely within the authority of the Biden administration. But despite all the promises made by DHS, authorities have yet to take any action.
Every stateless person in the US has a different story. But they all share similar frustrations and fears.
My friend, Miliyon Ethiopias, for example, came to this country from Ethiopia about 21 years ago in search of safety and security. He had lost his Ethiopian citizenship due to his ethnic heritage and became stateless. Since he came to the US, he has been working hard, paying his taxes, going to church, and doing everything possible to be a productive member of American society. However, he also does not have a legal path to citizenship. Like me, Miliyon has filed a request for discretionary relief that could allow her to regularize his immigration status and take steps toward citizenship. We hope that the authorities will respond with a positive result.
Miliyon and I come from very different backgrounds, but we share a mission: We want to end the needless suffering of stateless people in the US. That’s why together we started United Stateless, an advocacy organization lobbying Congress to pass a legislation to permanently protect stateless persons.
Last year we celebrated Secretary Mayorkas’ historic commitment to helping people like us. But a year later, we have finished with the promises, we need concrete and immediate actions. In recent months, communities across the US have been mobilizing to welcome Ukrainians and Afghans fleeing war, oppression and discrimination. As we cheered and supported these efforts, we couldn’t help but wonder: When will it be our turn? It is about time the Biden administration made good on its promise to help us: stateless people who have no place to call home other than our adopted nation, America.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.