Gomez, Schiff, Quigley, and 30 Members of Congress Urge State Department to Continue to Support U.S. Mission Ukraine Staff
Washington, March 11, 2022 | Bertha Guerrero (202-770-6959)
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), along with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and 30 Members of Congress delivered a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern for the ongoing safety of Ukrainian employees of the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, and urging the department to continue to assist them and their families in relocating out of the country as needed.
On February 14, as Russian forces were building up along the Russia-Ukrainian border, the State Department announced that due to safety concerns, it would temporarily relocate its embassy operations in Ukraine from Kyiv to Lyiv. While arrangements were made for all remaining “core Embassy staff,” reports indicate locally-employed Ukrainian staff did not have a clear way to access similar assistance as Russian attacks on Kyiv continue to intensify.
“The opportunity to support the relocation of those local partners and their families in a time of crisis increasingly diminishes as each day passes, with limited transit options and soaring fuel costs. We fear that access to financial resources will not necessarily be enough to facilitate temporary relocation for those who urgently wish to do so. Many questions remain unanswered,” the members wrote in the letter.
Specifically, the members are asking Secretary Blinken to shed light on what support and resources are already being provided to locally-employed staff and their families who are at risk and want to relocate – for example, helping them apply for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) or engaging with allied and partner governments in the region for staff’s longer-term needs – as well as what steps the State Department is taking to assure staff that America stands behind them, and will not forget their contributions to the U.S. mission to Ukraine.
“These individuals and their families have made significant contributions to U.S. foreign policy objectives and diplomatic efforts in Ukraine and the region and are now at grave risk following the Russian invasion,” the members wrote.
The letter was co-signed by Assistant Speaker Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), Chairpersons Jim McGovern (D-Mass.; Rules Committee), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.; House Natural Resources), and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.; Budget Committee), and Representatives David E. Price (D-N.C.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Bill Keating (D-Mass.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Susan Wild (D-Penn.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).
In February, Rep. Gomez led a letter - signed by 98 of his colleagues - urging the Biden administration to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Special Student Relief (SSR) for Ukraine. In March, the Biden administration took action and designated TPS to Ukraine, which would provide vital, life-saving protection from deportation for Ukrainian nationals already in the United States.
Click here to read the letter or read the full text below:
We write to express our concern for the safety of the Foreign Service National (FSN) and Locally Employed Staff (LES) employed by the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Ukraine. These individuals and their families have made significant contributions to U.S. foreign policy objectives and diplomatic efforts in Ukraine and the region and are now at grave risk following the Russian invasion.
On February 14, 2022, you announced the temporary relocation of operations in Ukraine from the Embassy in Kyiv to Lviv due to safety concerns during the buildup of Russian forces. While arrangements were made for all “core Embassy staff” that remained in the country to depart Kyiv, there were no such arrangements, to our knowledge or reported publicly, made for FSN and LES staff. To that end, we understand from press reports that on February 24th the locally employed staff committee sent the Department an email following Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack against Ukraine asking for further assistance and support in relocating outside of fighting zones or the country. A second email letter to Department leadership was also sent, signed by nearly 400 American foreign-service officers and other State Department personnel, expressing frustration over what they described as the Department’s “lack of responsiveness” to requests for help from their Ukrainian colleagues.
We appreciate that late last week, the Department took the important step to provide paid administrative leave for all staff whose work was made impossible by Russia’s invasion, whether they have remained in Ukraine or have already relocated, as well as to provide salary advances to those with additional needs. Providing this sense of financial security in an uncertain and stressful time can go a long way to ensuring that local staff can continue to support their families’ needs.
Continuity of income, however, only partially addresses the concern. The opportunity to support the relocation of those local partners and their families in a time of crisis increasingly diminishes as each day passes, with limited transit options and soaring fuel costs. We fear that access to financial resources will not necessarily be enough to facilitate temporary relocation for those who may urgently wish to do so. Many related questions remain unanswered, including:
We appreciate that some of this information may be sensitive in light of the imperative to shield these individuals from any further risk and would welcome a future briefing on details that cannot be shared at this time. We look forward to responses to these questions and hearing more on the Department’s continuing plans to support locally employed staff of the U.S. Mission in Ukraine. Thank you for your close attention to this important matter.
Members of Congress#