WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday granted Cameroonian immigrants temporary protection in the United States, allowing them to stay in the country for 18 months and apply for work permits.
Only Cameroonians living in the United States as of April 14 are eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which generally benefits undocumented immigrants and those whose visas are expiring.
A 1990 immigration law authorizes DHS to grant protection to people from countries experiencing war, natural disasters, and other “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” In Cameroon’s decision, DHS cited the years-long armed conflict between the country’s English-speaking minority and French-speaking majority and a “significant increase” in attacks by the extremist group Boko Haram.
Officials said hundreds of thousands of displaced Cameroonians lacked access to essential services such as hospitals and schools and the violence had sparked a “humanitarian crisis” of economic and food insecurity.
Mayorkas said conditions made it dangerous for Cameroonians to return home.
“The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon and we will provide temporary protection to those in need,” he said in a statement. “Cameroonian nationals currently residing in the United States who cannot return safely due to extreme violence perpetrated by government forces and armed separatists, and an increase in attacks by Boko Haram, will be able to stay and work in the United States until conditions in their home country improve.
The designation adds Cameroon for the first time to a growing list of countries such as Sudan, Haiti and Ukraine to which Mayorkas has used his executive authority to prevent the deportation of immigrants. DHS estimated on Friday that around 11,700 Cameroonians will be eligible to seek protection.
The designation takes effect when the notice is published in the Federal Register, and applicants must pay fees and background checks.
The temporary status offers some stability to Cameroonians who have been in limbo for years, but it falls far short of the permanent legal status that many had hoped for under the Biden administration.
President Joe Biden sent a bill to Congress that would create a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, including Cameroonians, in the United States, but the measure gained little ground in Congress. amid frustration over a record influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border this year.
The Trump administration had tried to drastically reduce the use of Temporary Protected Status, complaining that it is often extended long after the initial emergency has ended. Salvadorans, the largest group with TPS, have had the status since 2001.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in June that his agency would impose visa restrictions “on those who compromise the peace” in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, and that the United States is “committed to ending the continued violence “.
But immigrant advocates said visa restrictions would not prevent Cameroonians from being deported in unsafe conditions.
Sixty-eight advocacy groups called on Blinken this month to recommend more countries to DHS for TPS designation, including Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Lebanon and Mauritania. .
The Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national organizations, called for the “immediate designation” of TPS for Cameroon in February. He cited a Human Rights Watch report, which found that government security forces and others subjected deported immigrants and their family members to beatings, extortion and rape from 2019 to 2021.