Guests Who Never Leave

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that some West Africans in Minnesota are facing the prospect of returning home. The subject is the federal Temporary Protected Status program.

The news has roiled the Twin Cities’ West African community: A program that allowed natives of the countries hardest hit by the 2014 Ebola epidemic to stay and work here is ending next spring.

The idea was that a limited number of West Africans could come to the United States, or remain here, to escape the ebola epidemic. When the epidemic was over, they were to return to Africa. The program is, as its name states, temporary.

In September, U.S. officials granted a final six-month reprieve to about 5,900 visitors from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea here on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and urged them to make departure plans before the program expires in May.

Community leaders had lobbied for the status and successfully pushed for extensions, arguing that the economies and health-care systems of these countries are still damaged even as infections have decreased.

But temporary residence in the U.S. wasn’t granted because West African economies are a mess, it was granted because of the imminent danger posed by the ebola epidemic.

Local West Africans said a majority of visitors will probably stick around and slip into the immigration shadows.

So most will ignore an order to leave and instead will remain in Minnesota–permanently, apparently–in the proverbial “shadows.” Somehow I don’t think the shadows are too dark these days.

“Right now, these people are an asset,” said Abdullah Kiatamba of the nonprofit African Immigrant Services. “They are not going to leave. They’re going to stay in the shadows, become a burden and become a target.”

Why will they be a burden if they are in the shadows? Can you get welfare and free health care in the shadows? And more generally, what sense does it make to have a “temporary” residency program if most of those who participate will thumb their noses at the law and remain here illegally when their temporary status runs out?

Some allege that the Temporary Protected Status program is largely a fraud that, contrary to its stated purpose, allows many immigrants to remain in the U.S. indefinitely:

Critics of TPS often cite multiple extensions given to natives of other countries — stretching more than a decade in some cases — to argue that the program is not really temporary.
Local advocates are unsure why the administration decided to end the program quickly compared with some Central American nations. Nationally, pundits speculated that’s because the number of West African recipients is fairly small, and that immigrant community does not have the political clout of U.S.-based Latinos.

TPS is a relatively small part of the U.S. immigration system, but it displays the same dishonesty and disregard for the interests of Americans that characterize our immigration system as a whole, under the present administration.