Senators Markey, Shaheen Urge Biden Administration to Designate Temporary Protected Status for Belarusians

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sent a letter (PDF) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Belarus. TPS provides protection to foreign nationals in the United States whose home countries are experiencing temporary and extraordinary conditions, including armed conflict and natural disasters, among other circumstances that make a return home unsafe. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a cosigner of the letter in the Senate.

Dear Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas,

We write to urge you to designate Belarus for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which offers temporary relief from removal and access to work permits for eligible foreign nationals who are unable to return safely to their home country. The Republic of Belarus is rife with human rights abuses perpetrated by the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenka, including arbitrary detention, torture, and extra-judicial executions. For Belarusians now present in the United States, a return to their home country would be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening. TPS for Belarus is therefore urgently warranted.

Belarus is widely regarded as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The State Department’s 2022 report on human rights practices in Belarus paints a picture of complete authoritarian rule by Lukashenka, whose “security forces aggressively, intentionally, and systematically perpetuate[] numerous abuses to stifle political dissent and repress human rights.”1 The list of abuses is almost too long to catalogue. According to the State Department, they include:

  • unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces;
  • torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces;
  • harsh and life-threatening prison conditions;
  • arbitrary arrest and detention;
  • serious problems with the independence of the judiciary;
  • punishment of family members for alleged offenses by a relative;
  • harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence against journalists;
  • substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association;
  • lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of violence;
  • trafficking in persons;
  • crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and
  • outlawing of independent trade unions and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.2

The State Department is not alone in condemning Belarus’ human rights record. In March 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a report stating that “there are sufficient grounds to believe that systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Belarus,” including possible “crimes against humanity.”3 The UN Special Rapporteur affirmed this finding in her August 25, 2023 report on the human rights situation in Belarus, stating that “virtually all human rights defenders, investigative journalists, civic activists and members of the political opposition [are] either in prison or in exile.”4

In 2020, Lukashenka was reelected president in an election punctuated by fraud and procedural violations.5 In 2021, he enforced a law amending Belarus’s criminal code to authorize the death penalty for individuals convicted of “attempted acts of terrorism” — a bogus charge that the Lukashenka regime frequently uses to execute dissenters, political prisoners, and activists.6 And just this September, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Lukashenka ordered Belarusian consulates to stop renewing or extending passports, meaning that nationals “who were compelled to flee the country due to mass repression in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election[,] including peaceful protesters,” must return to Belarus to renew or extend their passports, where they face a “high risk of persecution.”7

TPS provides protection to foreign nationals in the United States whose home countries are experiencing temporary and extraordinary conditions, including armed conflict, natural disasters, and other extraordinary conditions that render return unsafe.8 TPS has been granted for countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Cameroon, Haiti, Sudan, and Ethiopia where human rights abuses have prevented a safe return home.9

More than 79,000 Belarusians live in the United States.10 The extraordinarily dangerous situation facing Belarusians in their home country amply satisfies the requirements for a TPS designation. TPS is necessary to ensure the United States does not return Belarusian nationals to a country governed by an authoritarian regime that would likely subject them to repression, persecution, violence, and even death. Given the extraordinary conditions in Belarus, paired with the urgency posed by Lukashenka’s forcing Belarusians to return home to renew or extend their passports, we urge you to use your authority under law to designate Belarus for TPS.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.


Edward J. Markey, United States Senator
Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senator
Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator
Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress
Gerald E. Connolly, Member of Congress

  1. U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Belarus Human Rights Report at 1 (2022) (hereinafter “Belarus Human Rights Report”),↩︎

  2. Id. at 2. ↩︎

  3. Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Belarus Rights Abuses May Amount to ‘Crime Against Humanity’ - UN Report, Reuters (Mar. 17, 2023),↩︎

  4. Anaïs Marin, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Belarus, (Aug. 25, 2023),↩︎

  5. Kostya Manenkov & Daria Litvinova, Belarus Poll Workers Describe Fraud in Aug. 9 Election, AP (Sept. 1, 2020),↩︎

  6. Belarus Human Rights Report supra note 1 at 19. ↩︎

  7. Press Release, U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Belarus: Presidential Decree Denying Consular Services Puts Belarusians Abroad at Risk (Sept. 20, 2023)↩︎

  8. 8 U.S.C. § 1255. ↩︎

  9. Jill H. Wilson, Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, Congressional Research Serv. (updated July 28, 2023),↩︎

  10. See U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2022 Data Release (2022) (the population estimate in the United States of Belarusians for first entry was 66,499 and for second entry was an additional 12,834)↩︎