Trump administration extends special protected status for Somalis

Updated: 5:10 p.m. | Posted: 4:35 p.m.

Hundreds of Somali people living in Minnesota received welcome news Thursday afternoon when the Trump administration announced it's extending a special immigration status designed to help people fleeing violence and natural disaster in their home countries.

The decision over what's called Temporary Protection Status affects about 500 Somalis in the U.S., many of whom live in Minnesota, home to one of the largest Somali-American communities in the country.

Some of those people have lived in the U.S. for decades. Many have children, spouses and other family members who are citizens or legal residents.

"After carefully reviewing conditions in Somalia with interagency partners, Secretary Nielsen determined the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that support Somalia's current designation for TPS continue to exist," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

The decision allows current Somali TPS beneficiaries to stay and work in the U.S. through March 17, 2020.

If the extension hadn't been granted, they would have been faced with either the prospect of leaving their families and jobs and returning to Somalia, which is still wracked by violence after more than a decade of civil war; or staying, illegally, and risking deportation.

But the announcement was only a partial victory for Somali immigrants. While DHS extended the special status for Somalis who are already protected, it does not allow Somalis in the U.S. on visas or who are here seeking asylum to apply for TPS status, because the program hasn't been redesignated since 2012.

"We estimate at least 1,200 to 1,800 people that have visas who possibly do not have a permanent residency legal path," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Somalia was first designated for Temporary Protective Status in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, because of violence and chaos after an authoritarian regime there fell.

That special status has now been extended 23 times.

"Somalia is still facing an ongoing conflict, there's still a large humanitarian crisis there, 5.5 million people are facing food shortages," said Hussein. "It's a very dire situation."

As of October of last year, the U.S. provided temporary protective status to about 437,000 people from 10 countries, all in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

But the Trump administration has moved to terminate the status for people from six countries, which make up the vast majority of people protected by the program: El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Nepal, and Honduras.

The program does not provide a path to lawful permanent residence or citizenship. But there has been ongoing debate about whether there should be a path to legal residence for migrants who have been living in the United States for long periods of time with TPS.

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