On March 22, 2016, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that he will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone for an additional six months, until November 22, 2016. The TPS program was originally scheduled to expire on May 20, 2016.
President Obama enacted TPS on November 21, 2014, in response to the Ebola epidemic raging in the three West African countries. TPS recognizes conditions in a country that would endanger nationals returning from the United States. TPS beneficiaries are permitted to remain in the U.S. temporarily and granted temporary work authorization permits. The TPS program was originally scheduled to expire on May 20, 2016.
For the last several months, African Communities Together (ACT) has worked closely with leaders and organizations in the Guinean, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean communities to renew TPS. Ambassadors for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone each sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, asking the White House to extend TPS. Organizations and elected officials communicated the importance of TPS to our communities.
The announcement is a direct result of this organizing.
However, today’s announcement falls well short of the relief that Guinean, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean communities need. Advocates have been calling for a full 18-month reauthorization of TPS. TPS for other countries has been frequently reauthorized for several years beyond the initial humanitarian crisis, and it is unclear why the TPS extension is for such a short period.
ACT believes that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more than six months to heal and rebuild from the epidemic. This is particularly true given that Guinea and Sierra Leone announced new cases of Ebola virus infection in January and March of 2016. Public health experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have said that new Ebola “flare-ups” are likely, particularly given the long dormancy period of the virus. The epidemic has also done massive damage to the three nations’ economies, health care systems, and infrastructure.
“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have made a heroic effort to contain and recover from Ebola, but the risk and the damage of the epidemic are ongoing,” said Amaha Kassa, director of African Communities Together (ACT), an organization advocating for TPS reauthorization. “Extending TPS is the right thing to do, but six months is too short a time to get the job of rebuilding done.”