In a victory for Black immigrants and Black-led organizations that have been leading this years-long fight, the Biden administration announced on Friday that it will designate Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), citing “extreme violence perpetrated by government forces and armed separatists.”
The decision stands to shield from deportation tens of thousands of Cameroonian immigrants who are already in the U.S., advocates said.
“TPS will provide an urgently needed measure of stability and security for an estimated 40,000 people from the deadly conflicts in Cameroon,” said the Temporary Protected Status Deferred Enforced Departure Administrative Advocacy Coalition (TPS-DED AAC). The coalition urged the Biden administration to “follow this announcement with swift implementation of TPS and immediate cessation of deportations to Cameroon to ensure protection.”
But it is a bittersweet victory. Numerous advocates noted that while they celebrated the “life-saving protection TPS will provide for thousands of Cameroonians,” they also mourned the “harm that came to those who were deported back to dangerous conditions.” Human Rights Watch said in a February report that Cameroonian asylum-seekers deported from 2019 to January 2021 faced abuses following their return, including arbitrary arrest, extortion, and rape.
“It is not lost on us that the journey to get to what should’ve been an obvious decision took years instead of days,” the UndocuBlack Network said. For comparison, Ukraine’s designation for Temporary Protected Status came within 10 days of Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
“A key step towards remedying the harms caused by the delay in designation is a strategic and equitable implementation plan,” UndocuBlack continued. “We urge the administration to immediately publish a Federal Register Notice (FRN) to provide eligible Cameroonians the opportunity to apply for TPS as soon as possible. An FRN publication would also officially open the registration period needed to facilitate the release of Cameroonians who are currently detained by ICE and CBP.”
The organization, which steadily fought for relief alongside Cameroon Advocacy Network and Haitian Bridge Alliance, also urged the administration to waive registration fees (officials waived certain application fees for Afghan refugees last fall) and a “culturally competent community outreach plan” to reach as many eligible people as possible.
UndocuBlack also urged relief for other Black immigrants facing imminent risk. “The current conditions in Cameroon made it a textbook case for TPS designation. Other majority-Black countries, with very similar conditions, must also receive TPS designation immediately. We hope Mauritania with the widespread practice of enslaving its Black population and Ethiopia with the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in its Tigray region will also receive TPS designation soon.”
Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez last month urged relief for Cameroon and Ethiopia in a statement supporting the Biden administration’s designation of Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status, writing it was “critical that TPS is not politicized to preference some countries over others. As I have said before, Black migrants are too often excluded when these important decisions are made.”
Following news of Cameroon’s designation last week, affected immigrants “who have lived in fear of imminent deportation said they feel like they can finally breathe,” Human Rights Watch said.
“I was almost deported myself [last year], but was taken off the plane,” one man told Human Rights Watch. “Thinking of the fact that there were many Cameroonians deported who faced hard times in jails in Cameroon … God has spared me. With this [TPS] news, it’s like a new day.” Both Human Rights Watch and affected individuals also urged the Biden administration to return recently deported Cameroonians. “It has been a nightmare, but now I feel safe,” another man told Human Rights Watch. “However, I will only be satisfied when the US government does something about my brothers that were deported, and those of us who have been unjustly treated by the immigration court system.”
“The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon, and we will provide temporary protection to those in need,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “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.”
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