The Biden administration’s decision to offer Temporary Protected Status to immigrants from Cameroon drew praise from lawmakers and immigrant advocates who had pushed for the move for months.
Under the new designation, people from Cameroon who were living in the U.S. as of April 14 will be protected from deportation and eligible to work legally for 18 months. It is the first time the status has been offered to immigrants from the war-torn African country.
Roughly 40,000 Cameroonians currently in the U.S. will be eligible for protection, advocates estimate.
Democratic lawmakers who had urged protections for people fleeing Cameroon said the designation would offer relief to immigrants treated unfairly during the Trump administration.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said in a news release that they were heartened that the Biden administration was taking steps to address a “stain on our nation.”
Last October, Lofgren and Johnson introduced legislation that would designate Cameroon for TPS, and it noted that people who return to the country risk detention, torture and more.
“Rather than lawfully providing safe haven in the United States, the Trump Administration cut Cameroonians off from our refugee program and subjected those seeking asylum to inhumane treatment,” Lofgren and Johnson said.
According to a report from Human Rights Watch, the U.S. immigration court asylum approval rate for Cameroonians plummeted by 24 percent from fiscal 2019 to 2020, leading to a surge in deportations. In 2019 and 2020, more than 190 Cameroonians were deported.
The Department of Homeland Security said in its announcement Friday that the designation would protect people who have fled a country suffering from violence, economic instability, food insecurity and internal displacement.
“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,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a similar announcement protecting Ukrainians living in the U.S. in the wake of Russia’s invasion. That designation drew immediate praise, but some immigrant advocates questioned why Cameroonians, also fleeing violence, did not merit the same timely protections.
“This administration used TPS as Congress intended in its response to war in Ukraine by designating TPS in a week,” Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said in a news release. “When it came to war and humanitarian disaster in Cameroon, they waited for more than a year.”