By: J. Nhinson Williams
Recently, I was in San Diego, California to attend the HIAS Network National Conference as director of the U.S-based Jewish Family Services (JFS) refugee resettlement and immigrants’ integration service. In this capacity and as a Liberian, I find myself fortunate to be in an international public policy position to help refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers and victims of trafficking from around the world, and especially blessed over the past decade and the half to have and continue to help Africans including my fellow Liberians.
There are approximately 2,160 plus current Liberia TPS beneficiaries (This number excludes Liberians who are not eligible and are out of status) in the United States. These persons were urged to use the time before termination of their TPS to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States or, in the alternative, to apply for other immigration benefits for which they are eligible.
Unfortunately and sadly, not many Liberians were or have been fortunate to change their immigration status from a TPS beneficiary to permanent residency. 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. The downsize is that most of these Liberian families and individuals facing the current immigration crisis in the U.S. financially/economically contribute to the lives of hundreds of poverty-stricken family members and friends back home in Liberia. They also contribute to the maintenance of the perpetual sluggish Liberian economy which is largely subjugated by widespread corruption, gruesome mismanagement and massive unemployment.
With the Executive Order of U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the effective expiration (May 20, 2017) of the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) of thousands of Liberian, Guinean and Sierra Leonean nationals, this is the time that I have ever faced the most heartbreaking moment in my international public policy career and in my ‘diplomatic’ skills in addressing such a huge humanitarian problem, because after my initial discussions with concerned authorities regarding a possible Liberian TPS extension, I realized I have no reasonable or convincing justifications to provide as to why the TPS designation for Liberians should be renewed after I was asked to provide any compelling and convincing reasons.
Consequently, I am therefore asking for help from all Liberians to help me with ideas and talking/written points to be included in my next formal communication to the current Secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, for the TPS extension of Liberians in the United States. Please indicate your justifications in various Liberian chat rooms on Facebook and we will get them. More importantly, I want to thank all Liberians who have shown concern regarding the plight of Liberians in the United States that are undergoing this immigration nightmare. Special thanks and appreciation to Counsellor Charles Walter Brumskine who, as a prominent Liberian citizen and leader, has been supportive to the point of voicing his concern and pleading for an extension of the TPS for Liberians during his recent Congressional visit in the U.S. capital, Washington, DC. We ask other prominent Liberians to follow his lead and do the same.
On September 22, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the decision to extend TPS benefits for Liberia under the current designation for 6 months for the purpose of an orderly transition before the previous TPS designation of Liberia was terminated. The current termination for the existing TPS will become effective May 21, 2017.
During the renewal process in 2016, a statement from then DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson read: “After reviewing country conditions and consulting with the appropriate U.S. government agencies, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has determined that conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone no longer support their designations for TPS. The widespread transmission of Ebola virus in the three countries that led to the designations has ended, no longer preventing nationals from returning in safety.
To provide for an orderly transition, nationals of Liberia (and individuals having no nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia) who have been granted TPS under the Liberia designation will automatically retain their TPS and have their current Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) extended through May 20, 2017. Beneficiaries do not need to pay a fee or file any application, including for work authorization, in order to retain their TPS benefits through May 20, 2017.
Although TPS benefits will no longer be in effect starting May 21, 2017, TPS beneficiaries will continue to hold any other immigration status that they have maintained or acquired while registered for TPS. DHS urges individuals who do not have another immigration status to use the time before the termination becomes effective in May 2017 to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible”.
Temporary Protected Status: Origins, Criteria, and Current Use
Congress created TPS in 1990 to establish a uniform system for granting temporary protection to people unable to return to their home countries because of a political or environmental catastrophe. Before 1990, the U.S. executive branch dealt with this scenario by designating certain countries for Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD), an administrative status that amounted to an exercise of prosecutorial discretion by the Attorney General not to pursue nationals of certain countries for removal if found to be living in the United States without authorization. However, there were no established criteria explaining how a country might qualify for EVD, and critics alleged that decisions regarding the grant of EVD to nationals of a particular country were often politically motivated. This argument became especially prominent in the late 1980s, when the Reagan administration decided not to designate El Salvador for EVD despite the country’s ongoing civil war at the time.
To resolve the controversy, Congress created TPS, a statutory mechanism for granting protection against deportation to nationals of designated countries. Under current law, the Homeland Security Secretary may designate a country for TPS when one of three circumstances occurs:
- there is “ongoing armed conflict” that creates unsafe conditions for returning nationals;
- there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster that makes the state temporarily unable to accept the return of its nationals, and the state has requested TPS designation; or
- “extraordinary and temporary” conditions in a state prevent its nationals from returning safely.
Once a country has been designated for TPS, its nationals who are residing in the United States at the time of the designation may be granted protection if they meet certain criteria. These include having been continuously present in the United States as of a date specified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and having a relatively clean criminal record. The statute bars from receiving TPS those who have committed a felony offense, two or more misdemeanors, or engaged in the persecution of others. Similarly, individuals who have committed a controlled substance offense, a national security offense, or multiple criminal offenses are generally ineligible.
Individuals who are granted TPS receive two main benefits: a reprieve from deportation and authorization to work. TPS holders may also apply for special permission to travel internationally and return to the United States. TPS does not confer permanent residency, citizenship, or any right to ongoing immigration status. Once the U.S. government has ended a country’s TPS designation, TPS holders revert to their prior immigration status.
The government may grant TPS to individuals who initially entered the United States with a temporary visa and then remained once their visa expired, as well as those who entered without authorization. Individuals present in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant visa may also apply for TPS. However, only individuals who are within the United States at the time that a TPS designation is initially made are eligible to apply for protection (though the cutoff date has been extended in some cases). This provision was created in part to address concerns that a grant of TPS would lead to a surge in new immigration.
Beyond TPS, the executive branch retains discretion to designate countries for administratively based protection against removal, including EVD and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Like TPS holders, individuals with EVD or DED protection may not be deported and may apply for work authorization. In the past, the executive branch has sometimes used grants of EVD or DED to continue to protect nationals of a designated country after that country’s TPS designation has ended. For example, the George H.W. Bush administration granted TPS to Liberia in 1991, and the designation was extended through 1999. When Liberians’ TPS expired on September 28, 1999, the Clinton administration granted DED to those whose TPS had expired. Liberia was subsequently re-designated for TPS in September 2002. In 2006, the George W. Bush administration announced that it would end TPS for Liberians but would grant them DED. President Obama has since extended DED for Liberians until September 30, 2014.
Currently, there are approximately 340,000 plus TPS holders. This figure does not include an estimated 9,000 plus Syrians who became eligible to apply when DHS advanced the date to demonstrate continuous presence in the United States. It also does not include the additional 4,000 plus Sudanese or South Sudanese nationals DHS estimates may be eligible for TPS based on the advancement of the designation dates in those two countries.
Why is the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Secretary terminating the designation of Liberia for TPS as of May 21, 2017, after a 6-month extension of TPS benefits for the purpose of orderly transition?
DHS and the Department of State (DOS) have reviewed conditions in Liberia. Based on the reviews and after consulting with DOS, the Secretary has determined that the termination of the TPS designation of Liberia, after a 6-month extension of TPS benefits for orderly transition, is required because the extraordinary and temporary conditions that prompted Liberia’s designation for TPS have substantially resolved and no longer prevent nationals of Liberia from returning in safety.
Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were designated for TPS in the midst of the largest EVD outbreak in history. From March 2014 through November 2015, these three countries suffered over 11,000 deaths among their more than 28,500 cases of EVD. At the height of the outbreak in late 2014, Ebola was spreading rapidly, with hundreds of new cases being reported each week, the health care systems overwhelmed, and containment measures causing significant disruptions to individuals’ ability to access food and earn a livelihood. 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 EVD epidemic has subsided, and conditions have improved since the Secretary initially designated Liberia for TPS.
A robust response by the international community and the governments of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has brought the EVD epidemic in West Africa under control and begun the long-term work of rebuilding regional economies and health systems. As of June 2016, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are all free of EVD. A country is considered free of EVD transmission after 42 days have passed since the last known person in the country with Ebola receives a second consecutive negative blood test for the virus. While the risk of flare-ups of EVD remains, efforts are underway to promote, over time, robust prevention, surveillance, and response capacity across all three countries.
In Liberia, the government and citizens partnered in a successful effort to control the epidemic and rapidly respond to any new cases. Commerce and imports have begun to rebound, and basic services have returned to pre-EVD outbreak levels. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no Ebola-related Travel Health Notice in place for Liberia as of the date of this Notice.
While health systems and facilities remain fragile, medical centers are no longer overwhelmed by patients with EVD. High rates of child mortality both before and since the EVD epidemic are indicative of the overall fragility of the health system. Although this is comparable to other countries in the region, systems in Liberia must also be able to address ongoing issues of trust between healthcare facilities and communities, as well as continue to care for Ebola survivors who have a series of ongoing and previously unforeseen health conditions, both of which will continue to exacerbate and underscore the fragility of these systems. Normal business activity and national life have largely resumed, although work is ongoing to rebuild Liberia’s economy and health care system.
On March 29, 2016, the WHO Director-General declared the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding the EVD outbreak in West Africa. In conjunction with ending the public health emergency, the WHO emphasized that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Based upon this review and after consultation with appropriate Government agencies, the Secretary has determined that Liberia no longer continues to meet the statutorily required conditions for a TPS designation on the basis of extraordinary and temporary conditions, because the extraordinary and temporary conditions that prompted Liberia’s TPS designation have substantially resolved and no longer prevent nationals of Liberia from returning to Liberia in safety. Therefore, after a 6-month extension of TPS benefits for orderly transition, the Secretary is terminating the TPS designation of Liberia effective at 12:01 a.m., local time, on May 21, 2017, 6 months following the end of the current designation. See INA section 244(b) (3) (B), 8 U.S.C. 1254a (b) (3) (B).
Sources: Department of Homeland Security
- Nhinson Williams is a Liberian international public policy and strategic workforce development professional who works as director of the U.S.-based Jewish Family Services refugee resettlement and immigrants’ integration service.