Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 October 2016
Less than a week after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Jeh Johnson re-authorized an extension of six months Temporary Protected Status (TPS) assigned to Ebola Affected Countries namely Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Wednesday directing Secretary Johnson to implement an eighteen months Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberian Citizens in the United States through March 31, 2018, according to a press release on the White House website.
President Obama’s DED directive will automatically extend work permits for Liberians who were forced to flee from their country to the US because of an 11 year civil war.
This DED extension doesn’t cover Liberians who did not have TPS on September 30, 2007, certain criminals and people subject to the mandatory bars to TPS and those whose removal is in the interest of the United States, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Wednesday.
Washington DC based Liberian born Ellen Dunbar, CEO of Miss Africa Foundation (parent organization of US-Africa Ebola Working Group) and member of the Campaign to Renew TPS for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia was ecstatic after she heard the announcement of DED extension for Liberians.
“As director of the US-Africa Ebola Working Group, I first thank those in Congress who opened doors for our organization to do its part. I wholeheartedly applaud President Obama’s extension of DED, which was the only humanitarian thing to do preventing potential deportations,” Ms Dunbar said in a statement.
Though many African immigrant groups around the United States were tirelessly working on the TPS renewal issue, Ms Dunbar argues individually, the numbers weren’t significant to impact the support of more lawmakers in Congress.
She urged Africans in the US to advocate more as a group to make our numbers count with politicians especially in an election year.
Prior to President Obama’s Memo for18-month DED for Liberians, DHS Secretary Johnson had issued a 6-months TPS re-authorization for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia instead of the 18 months that advocates were asking for.
Still, though disappointed, advocates say the DHS reprieve is the result of a diligent campaign by a cross section coalition of African immigration activists and advocates around the United States, with the support of 37 Congressional members.
Attorney Amaha Kassa, founder and Executive Director of African Communities Together (ACT) and a leader of Campaign to Renew TPS for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, led a rally under drenching rain on Monday, September 19 to Save TPS outside the Immigration Building at Federal Plaza in downtown New York City, three days before DHS announced a six months extension.
“We are glad that TPS recipients will get an additional six months of benefits, and that they will get an automatic extension, instead of going through an expensive and time-consuming reapplication process,” Attorney Kassa said in a statement for this story.
If it wasn’t for his Coalition’s advocacy which began in February 2015, “DHS was talking about ending the program immediately, which they have done in the past. So we have no doubt that the power we mobilized was responsible for this partial victory,” Attorney Kassa said referring to 37 congressional members under the leadership of Congressman Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, whose Letters to Support TPS re-authorization played a pivotal role in the renewal.
Campaign to Renew TPS advocates say though the six month renewal is worthy of celebrating, they are at the same time “disturbed and disappointed” that DHS will terminate the TPS program for Guinea and Sierra Leone, effective May 21, 2017, after an “orderly transition”.
There is a consensus among advocates that African immigrants are discriminated against and ultimately being short-changed in immigration benefits, whereas two Central American countries for example have benefitted from TPS for 15 years and running.
“We don’t see a policy argument for why countries like Nicaragua and Honduras, that were granted TPS decades ago, deserve to have it continued, but Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone do not,” said Attorney Kassa. “In fact, DHS hasn’t even articulated an argument, they’ve just said, “Well, the epidemic itself is over”.
“It comes down to power. Those countries more effectively advocated for themselves in the political process, such that DHS and the White House couldn’t afford to ignore their voices. We have to get to the point where we are able to do that as African immigrant communities,” Attorney Kassa wrote in response to an email inquiry on the issue of fair immigration treatment for Africans.