Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday extended Somalis’ Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for 18 months, a move advocates welcomed but said “does not go far enough to protect vulnerable people.”
“After carefully reviewing conditions in Somalia with interagency partners, Secretary Nielsen determined the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that support Somalia’s current designation for TPS continue to exist,” according to a statement from DHS.
Advocacy groups like the UndocuBlack Network framed Nielsen’s decision as simply putting Somalis on an “18-month notice.” The organization originally asked not just for an extension, but a re-designation of Somalia’s TPS status, which would have allowed for more Somalis to apply for protection.
There are an estimated 500 Somali TPS holders in the United States, according to DHS, and another 1,078 Somalis who would be eligible for the status if President Trump’s DHS chose to re-designate the program, according to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI).
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“We needed a re-designation, the conditions in Somalia have worsened since this year and definitely since the last re-designation in 2012,” said a statement from the UndocuBlack Network. “We know that this will cause added instability for several mixed status Somali families who are simultaneously being denied asylum. This is not enough.”
This includes families like that of Ali Abdul, a TPS holder, who would be in mortal danger if forced to return to Somalia after the latest TPS extension ends. Abdul said in a statement that TPS has allowed him to provide for his U.S. citizen wife and 7-year-old son after fleeing Somalia under the threat of terrorist group al-Shabab.
“They kidnapped me, and they tortured me for some time. They tried to brainwash me, but luckily I escaped and was able to come to this country. I’m so happy that I’m alive,” said Abdul, who participated in a press call about TPS organized by the UndocuBlack Network. “TPS has allowed me to send my son to school. I was not able to go to school. I didn’t even know if I was going to be alive most days. I’m so scared that my TPS will be terminated. If I go back, I may be tortured and killed. I can’t leave my family, I’m the sole provider for my family.”
Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of BAJI, explained to Rewire.News that country conditions in Somalia have recently worsened, necessitating a re-designation.
“Last fall, Somalia experienced its worst terror attack in Mogadishu that killed over 600 civilians. Somalia is currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis: flooding, drought, food insecurity throughout the country, and thousands of people are internally displaced. If Somalia is not safe for the United States’ embassy to be based in the country, then it is not safe for TPS holders,” Lipscombe said.
The U.S. government has not had an embassy in Somalia since 1991 and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs has Somalia listed at a level four travel advisory, advising U.S. residents not to travel to the country because of “crime, terrorism, and piracy.” Indeed, some TPS holders escaped al-Shabab by migrating to the United States, and according to Lipscombe, “returning [to Somalia] is a death sentence for them.”
In the days leading up to the DHS’s decision, Somali TPS recipients spoke out about what TPS means for their families. Sara Mohamed, whose husband has TPS, said in a statement that her family has made the best of what it has.
Trump has said African immigrants come from “shithole countries” and prior to Trump’s termination of TPS for Haiti, the Associated Press reported that a Trump administration official was digging for “unorthodox” information on Haitian TPS recipients, including crime data and information related to public benefits.
Some advocates expressed surprise that DHS extended TPS for Somalia, especially given Trump’s “animus towards Somalis in the United States.”
“Trump has proven over and over again his agenda to attack Black immigrants,” Lipscombe said.
Trump has advocated for “inherently racist” bills that attempt to end immigration policies that have been in place for decades, some for more than half a century, and target every path Black immigrants take to the United States. Days before he was elected to the White House, Trump flew to Minneapolis for a press conference and used rhetoric that targeted Somali immigrants in Minnesota.
“Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world,” Trump said in November 2016.
Since September, Honduran, Salvadoran, Haitian, Nicaraguan, Nepalese, and Sudanese immigrants have had their TPS designations terminated by the Trump administration, leaving parents in mixed-status families to decide whether to remain in the U.S. without authorization, or take their American citizen children to their countries of origin, risking harm and even death.
It appears the Trump administration is moving to end all humanitarian programs that enable immigrants to lawfully remain in the United States. In March, Trump directed DHS to terminate Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberia, a status similar to TPS that covered an estimated 3,600 people. The Trump administration has now only extended TPS for Syria, Yemen, and Somalia; all other countries with TPS have had their designations terminated.
Somali TPS recipients will be eligible to re-register for an extension of their status for 18 months, through March 17, 2020.