U.S. extends temporary protection status for Somali immigrants

Between 2016 and 2021, 972 Somali refugees have found a home in Arizona

By: - July 23, 2021 1:18 pm
Somali child

A child waits as her parents, refugees from Somalia, attend a class held by the Arizona Department of Economic Security at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), office in Phoenix in 2013. The IRC is a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that aids refugees and survivors of international conflict. It assists new arrivals, many of whom come from refugee camps and war zones, to adjust to American society after being granted refugee status and invited by the U.S. government to live in the United States. File photo by John Moore | Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security has extended temporary protections for Somali migrants, allowing them to apply for Temporary Protected Status through March 2023. 

TPS is a benefit that grants a work permit and temporary protection from deportation to immigrants living in the U.S. who are from countries affected by natural disasters and armed conflict. 

According to Homeland Security, the extension allows 447 current TPS holders from Somalia to maintain their protections and opens up the program to another 100 Somalis living in the U.S. 

Ali Hassan, 43, is a Somali migrant who arrived in the U.S. in 2016 to seek asylum. He now works as a truck driver and lives in Tolleson.

Five years ago, Hassan was attacked, detained and beaten up by a terrorist group in Somalia. His son was killed, his uncle too. Hassan was forced to leave Somalia. He traveled through various countries, including Turkey and Brazil, on his journey to the U.S. In June 2016, he arrived in Nogales, on the border with Sonora and Arizona. He was taken to a immigration detention center, where he spent eight months. 

Hassan is glad Homeland Security extended protection for Somalis like him. 

“They need to help, because they don’t have a government there. They don’t have peace there, they have a problem there,” he said. “I don’t know the politics (of extending TPS). (The U.S.) can help the people, especially people wanting to come here. Everyone is looking for peace, safety. There is no safety there.” 

While Hassan isn’t seeking TPS status, he is applying for asylum, which is a permanent status with a pathway to citizenship. Hassan said his application has taken five years to process. He has a court date before an immigration judge in September, when we could find out if the government is granting him asylum. 

The immigration court system is notorious for its case backlog, which has reached over 1.3 million pending cases. As of May 2021, there were 449 cases of migrants from Somalia pending before immigration court, according to data analyzed by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Of the 1,156 asylum cases of Somalis decided between 2016 and 2021, 34% of the claims were granted, according to TRAC numbers. In those years, 972 Somali refugees found their new home in Arizona, according to refugee resettlement data from the state Department of Economic Security. 

TPS is available to undocumented migrants that live in the U.S. and does not provide a pathway to a permanent immigration status, like a green card or naturalizations. 

Somalia was first designated for TPS in 1991. Homeland Security said the country is “currently a terrorist safe haven.”

“Civilians in Somalia continue to be displaced, injured, and killed as a result of conflicts involving government forces, clan militias, the African Union Mission in Somalia, al Shabaab, and a splinter group to the self-described Islamic State,” the federal government reported in the document extending TPS. Besides the security crisis, the country is also experiencing high rates of gender-based violence, acute food insecurity and environmental issues like drought, flooding and locust swarms, according to the United Nations. 

Muktar Sheikh. Photo by Laura Gomez | Arizona Mirror

The extension of TPS for Somalis is welcomed news for Muktar Sheikh, a community leader in Phoenix and advocate for refugees. 

“We still see Somalis that are running away from local Somali terrorists and other criminals,” he said. Sheikh said Somalis are still fleeing their country and making the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek protection in the U.S. 

“We have many Somalis in Florence Correctional Center that meet TPS eligibility requirements,” Sheikh said. “I hope the DHS will always continue TPS for Somalis that need protection.”

During the Trump Administration, Homeland Security tried to end TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. 

But since May, Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary for Homeland Security, has extended TPS for people from Haiti, Somalia and Yemen. In March, Venezuela was added as a TPS-designated country, with an estimated 323,000 eligible population.

Currently there are 12 countries designated for TPS. 

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.