Thousands of immigrants allowed entry to the US to escape from West Africa’s recent Ebola outbreak now face deportation, as the program that allowed them residence is ending.
An estimated 5,900 immigrants from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone arrived in the US under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program between 2014 and 2016. However the US Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed this week that the program will expire May 21. “The widespread transmission of Ebola virus in the three countries that led to the designations has ended,” the agency said in a statement.
The last new cases of Ebola in West Africa emerged in 2016. Today the World Health Organization is focusing on recovery efforts in the countries affected, including an experimental Ebola vaccine.
Lawrence Beah is one of those who came to the US under the TPS program. Beah and his family left Sierra Leone in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. He sent his mother, sister, and other relatives to Mauritania. But before he could join them, Mauritania issued a travel ban on immigrants from Ebola-affected countries. Beah then traveled alone to the US, arriving just as the Department of Homeland Security established TPS, allowing people from Ebola-affected countries to remain in the US and legally work. Now Beah works as a security guard in New York.
Beah fears he will have to leave the US.
“Mauritania will not let me in,” Beah said, noting that country’s recent wave of crime and terrorism. He would have to return alone to Sierra Leone. “I cannot get a job there,” he said.
More generally, Beah said, he feels less safe as an immigrant in America these days, although he he hasn’t heard of any deportations of people with TPS documentation. “Because I see people getting deported in other cases,” he said, “I cannot sleep, and I am afraid to go out anywhere.”
Immigrants and their advocates had hoped that TPS, which had been extended twice, could be extended again, perhaps indefinitely.
Beah and other West Africans are talking to immigration attorneys, hoping they can get green cards or asylum. But “most of them don’t qualify [to stay in the US] under any other category, especially now,” said Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together, an immigrant advocacy organization in New York.
Advocates argue that the secondary effects of the Ebola epidemic remain a threat to the economies and health of affected countries like Sierra Leone. Many of the 11,000 people who died during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak were health care workers, which has devastated the health care infrastructures of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
“The damage from epidemics will take years to fix,” said Kassa. “The number of health care providers plummeted during these epidemics. There is also the loss of foreign investment in those countries, and there have been effects on the food supply and widespread malnutrition.”