Originally published at Common Dreams
Also published at Truthout
Human rights activists on Friday applauded the Biden administration’s decision to allow tens of thousands of immigrants from war-torn Cameroon to temporarily live and work in the United States as a victory won by years of Black-led organizing.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday designated Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), allowing an estimated 11,700 people living in the United States as of Thursday to remain in the country for 18 months.
“The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon, and we will provide temporary protection to those in need,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “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.”
Guerline Jozef, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Cameroonian Advocacy Network, welcomed “this much needed and overdue announcement from the Biden administration.”
“We rejoice and celebrate with our Cameroonian siblings who after a long-fought battle can finally breathe a sigh of relief… We are grateful for all our partner organizations and allies who pushed hard to get this victory; this is another example of ‘anpil men, chay pa lou,'” she added, referring to a Haitian Creole proverb meaning “many hands lighten the load.”
In a testimonial published by a coalition of human rights groups, one directly impacted Cameroonian said:
I was tortured and detained twice in my country Cameroon because I spoke against the government. I was raped by the Cameroon military force at least twice a week during my two months in their custody. The military shot and killed my father at my second arrest.
I was detained in a [U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement] jail for over one year, where I was abused and treated badly by ICE. Death or life imprisonment awaits me if I am deported back to Cameroon because the Cameroonian military is still looking for me.
This designation of Temporary Protected Status will literally save my life and relinquishes my daily fear of being deported every time I see a police officer.
Over the past six years, thousands of Cameroonians have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced amid a war between government forces and separatist groups in two Anglophone regions of the Central African nation. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Francophone regions have also been displaced due to violence.
Meanwhile, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has escalated attacks in the far northern part of the country, and the government’s response has been plagued by human rights violations including unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests.
While many displaced Cameroonians have fled to neighboring nations—mainly Nigeria—thousands have also traveled to Latin America and then the southern U.S. border to seek asylum. However, in March 2020 the administration of former President Donald Trump barred nearly all asylum-seekers by invoking Title 42, a provision of the Public Health Safety Act, under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced it would end Title 42 deportations in May following immense pressure from rights groups.
Cameroonian migrants have described violent and abusive treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration authorities, including while in ICE detention and during deportation.
Advocates have contrasted the relative speed—less than 10 days—with which the administration granted TPS to Ukrainians following Russia’s February 24 invasion to the yearslong struggle to secure protected status for Cameroonians, an effort that began during Trump’s tenure.
“We have been fighting for a very long time to get TPS for Cameroon,” Jozef told The New York Times. “The way the U.S. was able to quickly provide protection for Ukrainians while denying protection for Black and Brown vulnerable people is a proof of a double standard.”
Daniel Tse, a co-founder of the Cameroonian Advocacy Network, said in a statement that “as history has taught us, when it comes to Black immigrants, there’s always retaliation, reluctance, and relegation involved. Given that this is the system that we work within, the fight is not over yet! We will continue to work with our allies and push for humanitarian parole for those unjustly deported.”
Calling DHS’ decision to protect Cameroonians “exactly the kind of action America should take to protect people from violence and persecution,” Douglas Rivlin, communications director at the immigration reform group America’s Voice, asserted that “the Biden administration should be more aggressive in asserting their vision for defending immigration and immigrants and should build on today’s positive news.”
“The White House should prioritize further executive branch actions and announce TPS designations and redesignations for countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and additional nations,” he added. “These are important tools to stabilize families and communities, deliver meaningful progress, and advance America’s interests and values.”