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An unlikely collaboration between Dan Pope, a workers’ compensation law specialist practicing in Raleigh, and Ben Snyder, an immigration law specialist practicing in Charlotte, had a big impact on the lives of several Ukrainian refugees last year. Each of these specialists is currently serving as chair of their respective specialty committees, but they had not met in person, nor had they anticipated working jointly on a complex legal matter. The Russian aggression against Ukraine brought them together in a surprising way.

On April 21, 2022, the United States announced a key step toward fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion. Uniting for Ukraine (“U for U”) provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the US and stay temporarily in a two-year period of parole. Ukrainians participating in the U for U program must have a sponsor in the United States who agrees to provide them with financial support upon their arrival to help them get settled in the US.

The first step in the U for U process is for the US-based sponsor to file a Form I-134A, Online Request to be a Supporter and Declaration of Financial Support, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services “USCIS.” The US government will then vet the sponsor to ensure that they are able to financially support the Ukrainians they wish to help.

Dan first learned about the U for U program when he reached out to Ben to help his parish priest, who was desperate to bring his daughter and her infant child from war-torn Ukraine to the United States. Ben was able to help with filing an I-134 with USCIS and a sponsor was found.

Dan also has a good friend, Father Iouri, a priest who still resides in Ukraine with no intention of leaving. They have known each other for over 20 years and Dan is the godfather to his 11-year-old daughter. As the war drew closer and closer to their home, the Iouri family made the difficult decision to send Father Iouri’s wife and 11-year-old daughter to the United States. Father Iouri and his 19-year-old son would have to stay in Ukraine due to a travel ban that restricts men ages 18-60 from leaving the country under martial law.

A sponsor may agree to support more than one beneficiary, such as for different members of a family group, but must file a separate Form I-134A for each beneficiary. For Father Iouri’s wife and daughter, Dan filed I-134 forms to sponsor their entry to the United States. Within two days, Iouri’s wife was approved to come to the US, although the approval was only good for 90 days. This was an issue as the daughter’s application seemed to be in limbo, and they were unable to get any answers. As is often the case in US immigration matters, it was impossible to get a human on the phone or to find any way to push the process along. It seemed no one was able to help, and the mother’s 90-day clock to get out of the Ukraine was ticking.

Dan recognized just how complicated this part of US immigration law had become. He again reached out to Ben. They were able to refile the daughter’s I-134 application. This time, it was approved. The safest way for Iouri’s wife and daughter to get to the airport was to take a bus to the Polish border and then a train to the airport. Just as they were leaving, Russia started to attack the infrastructure of Lviv. Iouri’s wife and daughter saw their city plunged into darkness after power was knocked out from the attacks. They escaped without a minute to spare— arriving in the US on October 19, 2022—and are now getting settled in North Carolina. They are grateful for Dan’s generosity and kindness, though they also look forward to the day they can return home to their family, city, and lives.

Dan Pope’s connection to Ukraine and Ukrainian culture is still deeply important to him and to his family. It began when a mutual friend introduced him to a young Iouri, studying in Rome with plans to return to Ukraine as a Byzantine Catholic Priest. At the time he began his studies, Ukraine was still under Soviet rule and the Catholic Church was suppressed. Iouri knew that by following his calling, he would likely always be in danger. His faith was strong, and he enjoyed easier times during the years Ukraine functioned independently. Dan’s friendship with Iouri deepened throughout the ups and downs, and Dan even began to learn the Ukrainian language. Dan and his daughter have taught English language classes to Ukrainian students, prior to and even during the war. The challenge of learning a new language did occasionally make Dan question his decision, but ultimately it served a purpose as his relationship with Iouri’s wife and daughter have become so much a part of his life.

As Dan embarked on this journey, he was helped along the way by caring friends and colleagues. Many other board certified workers’ compensation specialists, some that Dan knows only as opposing counsel, helped raise necessary funding. His wife, Cathy Pope, was also incredibly supportive, contributing much of the time and resources necessary to create space in their home for two additional people to live.

According to Ben, there is still a lot that needs to be done, but the United States got it right this time. “We have been able to help many Ukrainians come to this country with the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program. The U for U program allows people to leave Ukraine by fast track, using a humanitarian parole provision. A US sponsor is needed and the I-134A must be filed to show that financial support will be given as well as a place to stay and assistance with applying for school enrollment and social security numbers as appropriate.”

Ben points out that the majority of the Ukrainian citizens that he has helped enter the US are planning to return home when they are able. They all suffer the emotional scars of losing their homes and being separated from their family members, but their love for their country is strong and their desire to return even stronger: “US immigration laws tend to be written in ways that view people as statistics, policy decisions are made based on how populations could impact labor and employment in the US.” The U for U program exhibited a more humane approach. As the U for U program is a temporary solution, Ben notes that the next steps are to determine ways for most refugees to return home safely while providing a process to establish permanency for those who wish to make the US their permanent home. 

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