Author: Amanda Holpuch in New York
Nearly 500 Somalis who escaped terrorism and drought will be allowed to remain in the US until at least March 2020, the US homeland security department announced on Thursday.
Concerns had been raised that the administration would cancel the temporary protected status (TPS) program for Somalis because of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and the decision to end TPS status for more than 428,250 others. But the DHS granted them permission to stay temporarily, owing to the “ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary conditions” in Somalia.
This decision is a relief for TPS holders such as Yasir, who fled Somalia after being kidnapped and tortured by the al-Qaida-affiliated extremist group al-Shabaab. “I’m scared of going back to Somalia and being killed by al-Shabaab,” Yasir told the Guardian.
Yasir, 29, said that in 2008, he was walking in Mogadishu when two men came up behind him and hit him. He was knocked unconscious. He woke up in a room with the two men, who he said identified themselves as members of al-Shabaab and tried to coerce him into joining their group.
“They told me if I don’t work with them, they will kill me and they know where I live,” Yasir said.
He went into hiding while he tried to find a way out, occasionally dressing in women’s clothes and covering his face in disguise.
An aunt eventually gave him money so he could pay someone to get him out. He doesn’t know how long it took him to get to the US, which he did by traveling through several countries before crossing the border in 2009.
“I was happy to be alive,” Yasir said. “I was happy to be somewhere where justice means something.”
He lived in the US undocumented until 2012, when Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was redesignated for Somalia. TPS protects foreign nationals already in the US when civil unrest, violence or natural disasters erupt in their home country.
TPS can either be redesignated, which allows a new group of people to apply for it; renewed, with allows people who already have it to stay longer; or terminated, which typically gives people more than a year to find a way to stay in the US or leave.
The homeland security department renewed, but did not redesignate, TPS for Somalis on Thursday. The homeland security department said in a statement it made this decision because the “ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that support Somalia’s current designation for TPS continue to exist”.
With TPS, instead of living in the shadows, Yasir was able to work, get a driver’s license and open a bank account.
He is now married to a US citizen and has a seven-year-old American son. He said he doesn’t know what has happened to his family and friends in Somalia, and whether they are dead or alive.
“I’ve seen countries losing TPS and I’ve been scared I’m going to lose mine and be deported back home,” Yasir said.
The Trump administration has unleashed a torrent of measures to slow immigration and remove people from the US, including terminating TPS for six of the 10 countries covered by it when he took office.
This has left more than 428,250 people from countries including Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan forced to find a way to stay in the US or return to their home country as early as December of this year.
TPS has been extended for more than 8,100 people from South Sudan, Syriaand Yemen.
The president insulted the largest Somali American community, in Minnesota, two days before being elected president. “Everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota,” Trump said at a rally in November 2017.
Despite the escalating conflict with al-Shabaab, and the terrorist group’s targeting of people who return to the country, the US has dramatically increased deportations there since late 2016. In fiscal year 2016, 198 Somalis were deported, rising to 521 in 2017.
And in December, more than 90 Somali men and women were held shackled on an airplane for nearly 48 hours during a failed attempt to deport them from the US that went as far Dakar, Senegal, before returning to the US.
There have been bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to encourage the homeland security department to redesignate and extend TPS for Somalia. Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, sent a letter on Monday to the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, urging them to extend the protection. The senators wrote: “Conditions in Somalia remain dire, and armed conflict continues to be a threat to the Somali people.”