The US State Department recently called on governments around the world to live up to the commitments they have made to protect stateless persons who, as defined by the United Nations, “are not any State considers a national under its law”.
But there are an estimated 200,000 stateless people in the US, and they too need protection. I know this because I am one of them.
Yes, I am a stateless individual, a citizen of nothingness.
I was born in present-day Ukraine to a family of mixed Armenian and Ukrainian heritage. We faced discrimination due to our ethnicity in the Soviet Union, so we made our way to North America to build ourselves a better life. Unfortunately, our asylum request will be denied.
When the Iron Curtain fell and Ukraine became an independent country, 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 authorized to work in the United States as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but recent court decisions have raised questions about 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.
Although there are many uncertainties in my future and many limitations that I face in life due to my stateless status, I know there are stateless people in this country who are going through through struggles even harder than mine.
For example, many stateless people in the United States are not eligible for DACA and therefore cannot work legally in the country. Some end up in immigration detention and find themselves trapped there for years because they have no homeland from which they can be deported.
Currently, there is no law in the United States that allows stateless persons to legalize their immigration status. This means that very few stateless people in the country have a legal path to citizenship.
For most stateless people in the United States to exercise their human right to a nationality, Congress will need to pass specific legislation. Until then, all we can do is try to make arbitrary decisions that ease our daily hardships and hope for the best.
I see a recent statement from the US government calling on all governments to fulfill the commitments they have made to stateless people to strike, as this government has yet to fulfill a commitment. so.
On December 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its commitment to “adopt the definition of stateless status for immigration purposes and increase protections for stateless individuals.” citizens living in the United States”.
In April 2022, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed this commitment in an appearance on PBS NewsHour, noting that his department would “act urgently when vulnerabilities warrant” and aims to “do it this year, this financial year”.
The fiscal year that Minister Mayorkas listed as the deadline for action ended last month. However, stateless people continue to live in legal limbo and face severe trauma.
Of course, the U.S. government has the authority to assess whether a non-citizen is stateless and consider stateless status a factor in decisions to grant benefits or prosecution on a case-by-case basis. By taking such simple steps, authorities can extend a lifeline for thousands of people stuck in legal limbo, myself included.
In April 2023, my American husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. However, even though I have been married to an American citizen for nearly a decade, I can only apply for a green card on the basis of my marriage if the US government grants me “parole in place” – a discretionary administrative instrument that allows a non-U.S. citizen who has come to the United States without the permission of an immigration officer to stay here legally for a specified period of time.
I applied for a pardon in January 2022 but have not received a response. Having this status will completely change my life. It will eventually allow me to become a citizen of the country I have lived in since I was 8 years old. Then I was able to get my passport and finally visit my Ukrainian relatives, who have now migrated across Europe. I can even make a pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland, Armenia.
Putting me – who came to this country as a child – on this relatively easy path to citizenship is entirely within the Biden administration’s authority. But despite all the promises made by DHS, authorities have yet to take any action.
Every stateless person in America has a different story. But they all share the same frustrations and fears.
For example, my friend, Miliyon Ethiopis, came to this country from Ethiopia about 21 years ago in search of safety and protection. He lost his Ethiopian citizenship due to his ethnic heritage and became stateless. Since coming to America, he has worked hard, paid taxes, attended church, and done everything he can to be a productive member of American society. However, he also has no legal path to citizenship. Like me, Miliyon has filed for discretionary relief that could allow him to legalize his immigration status and take steps to become a citizen. We hope the authorities respond with a positive outcome.
Miliyon and I come from very different backgrounds, but we share a common mission: We want to end the needless suffering of stateless people in the United States. This is why we came together to found United Stateless, an advocacy organization that pushes Congress to pass legislation to permanently protect stateless people.
Last year, we celebrated Minister Mayorkas’ historic commitment to helping people like us. But a year has passed, and we have fulfilled our promises, and we need immediate, concrete action. In recent months, communities across the United States have mobilized to welcome Ukrainians and Afghans fleeing war, oppression and discrimination. While cheering and supporting these efforts, we couldn’t help but wonder: When will it be our turn? It’s time for the Biden administration to deliver on its promise to help us – stateless people with nowhere to call home but our adoptive nation, America.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.