By Florence Mafomemeh
It was a long fight that ended in a victory for the short-term. The Biden Administration finally bowed to pressure from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers on Friday and designated Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. This means that Cameroonian nationals living in the U.S. will be protected from deportation and can apply for work permits.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
In a statement announcing the designation, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited the “years-old conflict between the Cameroonian government and armed separatist groups in the country’s Anglophone regions in the west,” as well as a surge in attacks by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group in Africa.
“The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon, and we will provide temporary protection to those in need,” the DHS Secretary said in a statement.
“Cameroonian nationals currently residing in the U.S. who cannot safely return due to the extreme violence perpetrated by government forces and armed separatists, and a rise in attacks led by Boko Haram, will be able to remain and work in the United States until conditions in their home country improve,” Mayorkas added.
The DHS said the conditions have fostered “extreme violence,” dealt a big blow to the African country’s infrastructure, fueled economic turmoil and food insecurity leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians.
Destruction in Buea in the anglophone southwest region, Cameroon
Immigrant advocates said it was long overdue. “We have been fighting for a very long time to get T.P.S. for Cameroon,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Cameroonian Advocacy Network, who have been among the most vocal proponents of extending the protection.
“The way the U.S. was able to quickly provide protection for Ukrainians while denying protection for Black and brown vulnerable people is proof of a double standard,” Josef added.
The pressure to extend humanitarian protection to Cameroon heightened after the administration moved swiftly when war erupted in Ukraine to offer temporary protected status last month to people from that country who were already in the United States.
That decision, which benefited some 30,000 Ukrainians, highlighted what critics said appeared to be a stark difference in the government’s treatment of Europeans and nationals of countries with majority Black or Hispanic populations.
TPS is based on three grounds: armed ongoing conflict, environmental disasters or “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” DHS cited the violence between government forces and separatists, as well as a rise in terror attacks by Islamic terror group Boko Haram.
TPS authority allows the Department of Homeland Security to protect nationals of designated countries living in the U.S. from potential deportation if they are eligible, allows them to apply for work permits and gives them the freedom to travel. Cameroon is designated for an initial 18 months, but such designations are frequently extended.
CBS News reports that the designation will allow Cameroonians who were in the United States as of April 14 to work and live legally in the U.S. for 18 months without fear of deportation. It includes those with visas that are set to expire. The designation does not, however, make them eligible for permanent residency or citizenship.
The New York Times reports that about 40,000 Cameroonian immigrants are expected to qualify for TPS. The status will not apply to Cameroonians who arrive in the U.S. after Friday’s announcement.
“This has been a long-fought battle,” said Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance tells CBS News. “When it comes to TPS for Cameroon and Haiti, it was not just a gift. That was something we literally had to fight for, for a very long time,” Josef added.