Biden Admin Extends Temporary Amnesty to Thousands of Somalis Living in US

Biden Admin Extends Temporary Amnesty to Thousands of Somalis Living in US
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas answers a reporter's question during a news conference with Mexican counterparts at the State Department in Washington on Oct. 13, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has renewed the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Somalia, allowing more than 2,600 Somali nationals to remain in the United States for another 18 months.

A country may be designated for TPS when circumstances in the country, such as a civil war or natural disaster, temporarily prevent its citizens from returning safely. The DHS currently grants this status to 16 countries, including Ukraine, which has been in a full-scale armed conflict with Russia since February 2022.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday that his department has re-designated Somalia for TPS because of the "ongoing conflict and the continuing humanitarian crisis" in the Horn-of-Africa Nation.

According to the DHS, this will allow about 430 Somalis who are already in the TPS program to renew their work permits and deportation protections, so long as they continue to meet all TPS eligibility requirements. It will also allow an additional 2,200 eligible Somali immigrants to join the program.

"Through the extension and redesignation of Somalia for Temporary Protected Status, the United States will be able to offer safety and protection to Somalis who may not be able to return to their country, due to ongoing conflict and the continuing humanitarian crisis," Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the decision. "We will continue to offer our support to Somali nationals through this temporary form of humanitarian relief."

Although it was originally designed as a temporary humanitarian program, TPS could be a de facto permanent sanctuary that shields people of a certain nationality from deportation, as long as the DHS doesn't let the country's TPS designation expire.

The Trump administration has tried to terminate several countries' TPS designation, emphasizing the fact that the program was never meant to be a permanent solution.

In June 2017, after visiting Haiti, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he would not renew TPS for the Caribbean nation because it had made considerable recovery and should be able to handle the return of its citizens. In the following months, the Trump administration moved to end TPS benefits for those from Nicaragua, Sudan, El Salvador, Nepal, and Honduras, who account for about 80 percent of TPS holders.

The terminations were challenged by several lawsuits. In one of the cases, a California court issued a preliminary injunction to block the termination of TPS for Haiti, Honduras, and Nepal, siding with the allegation that those decisions were motivated by racism. Some TPS-related lawsuits are still pending.

The Biden administration, upon taking office, renewed the TPS protections Trump tried to end and granted the status to more countries. In November 2022, the Biden administration announced that TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan will remain fully protected until June 2024.

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