De­feat of Ebola means ex­pir­ing le­gal sta­tus for 4,500 from West Africa

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

In a sign the U.S. con­sid­ers Ebola to be van­quished, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are re­mind­ing thou­sands of West Africans to pack their bags and re­turn home or risk de­por­ta­tion when their tem­po­rary le­gal sta­tus ex­pires in one month.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity granted more than 4,500 peo­ple from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea spe­cial per­mis­sion to live and work in the states af­ter a deadly Ebola out­break rav­aged their home coun­tries from late 2013 to early 2016.

Health of­fi­cials cleared those coun­tries of trans­mis­sion last sum­mer, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in Septem­ber said West Africans shielded by “tem­po­rary pro­tec­tive sta­tus” in the U.S. had eight months to get out.

De­spite years of slip­pery dead­lines un­der the pro­gram, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said it has no plans to budge from the May 21 cut­off, so those who have no other grounds to stay should book their flights.

“DHS urges in­di­vid­u­als who do not have an­other im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus to use the time be­fore the ter­mi­na­tion be­comes ef­fec­tive in May to pre­pare for and ar­range their de­par­ture from the United States or to ap­ply for other im­mi­gra­tion ben­e­fits for which they may be el­i­gi­ble,” it said last week in a reg­u­la­tory no­tice that served as a one-month warn­ing.

Those who ig­nore the or­der would lose their abil­ity to work legally within the U.S. — mak­ing it much more dif­fi­cult to stay — and face de­por­ta­tion if they run into law en­force­ment or im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

Tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus, or TPS, is a ben­e­fit granted to non-cit­i­zens who are in the U.S. but would face im­mi­nent dan­ger from nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, on­go­ing vi­o­lence or other ad­verse con­di­tions if they re­turned to their home coun­tries.

For in­stance, thou­sands of Syr­i­ans in the U.S. were granted pro­tected sta­tus amid the on­go­ing civil war, while Haitians were granted pro­tected sta­tus af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in 2010.

The Ebola out­break in West Africa killed more than 11,000 peo­ple and sparked a global panic, with some gov­er­nors in the U.S. im­pos­ing strict quar­an­tine mea­sures on peo­ple re­turn­ing from the hot zone.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by far bore the brunt of epi­demic, prompt­ing a mas­sive in­ter­na­tional aid re­sponse. Re­spon­ders started to get a han­dle on the out­break in by late 2015, though a se­ries of flare-ups stretched the dan­ger into mid-2016, and U.S. aid work­ers are still as­sist­ing the re­cov­ery in those West African coun­tries.

“While the im­pacts of the epi­demic pose a last­ing chal­lenge to Liberia’s econ­omy and the ca­pac­ity of its health sys­tem to pro­vide treat­ment for pre­ventable or treat­able con­di­tions, at this time, the [Ebola] epi­demic has sub­sided, and con­di­tions have im­proved since the Sec­re­tary ini­tially des­ig­nated Liberia for TPS,” Home­land Se­cu­rity said in its re­cent no­tice.

U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices said as of the start of this year, the ma­jor­ity of TPS ben­e­fi­cia­ries from the Ebola out­break — 2,313 — were from Liberia, 1,180 were from Sierra Leone and 1,009 from Guinea. Of­fi­cials said they couldn’t spec­u­late on how many of them might have al­ready left.

Ad­vo­cates for Liberi­ans are dis­ap­pointed, say­ing many of those dis­placed by Ebola have been un­able to find other forms of res­i­dency and will have their lives and fam­i­lies up­ended next month.

“As such, these Liberian fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als face the tough­est of time. These Liberian heads of fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als will be out of work, and will not be able to have ac­cess to many other things in­clud­ing cer­tain So­cial Se­cu­rity and eco­nomic ben­e­fits. More­over, they face men­tal tor­ture and im­mi­nent de­por­ta­tion at any time,” J. Nhin­son Wil­liams, an ad­vo­cate for Liberi­ans in their home coun­try and else­where, wrote in a re­cent opin­ion piece for Front Page Africa.

Sup­port­ers of im­mi­gra­tion lim­its say the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to stand by the May 21 dead­line would be ground­break­ing.

Those granted pro­tected sta­tus typ­i­cally re­ceive ex­ten­sions or new pro­tec­tions.

For in­stance Liberi­ans and Cen­tral Amer­i­cans who en­tered the pro­gram to es­cape civil war and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in the 1990s were granted an­other layer of pro­tec­tion, known as Deferred En­force­ment of De­par­ture (DED), be­fore their TPS ex­pired, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form.

“This would be a much-needed im­prove­ment in the Tem­po­rary Pro­tected Sta­tus pro­gram, be­cause it would be the first time that it’d ever proven to be ‘tem­po­rary,’ ” FAIR spokesman Dave Ray said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion said the longer peo­ple re­main un­der pro­tected sta­tus, the more rea­sons they can find to stay — for in­stance, they might marry an Amer­i­can, claim their chil­dren as U.S. cit­i­zens or find an em­ployer to spon­sor them.

“They’ve de­cided they’re go­ing to use this as their ticket to stay in the United States,” Mr. Ray said. “And for a lot of peo­ple it’s worked.”

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