After Cameroonians advocated for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for five years since the Anglophone Crisis broke out in Cameroon in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security finally designated 18 months of protected status for Cameroonian nationals in the U.S. on April 15. TPS will protect qualifying Cameroonians from deportation and give them the ability to receive work permits. Advocates say they are grateful for the designation, but more can be done to grant relief to a community whose home country is in the midst of war and a humanitarian crisis.
“This is the bare minimum,” said Sylvie Bello, the founder and CEO of the Cameroon American Council.
Advocates are still pushing for Cameroonians to qualify for the Special Student Relief Program, which allows international students studying on a school visa to apply for permission to reduce their course load and to work over 20 hours in on-campus positions, or apply for a card to work off-campus. They are also asking for a refugee resettlement program and Humanitarian Parole. The resettlement program would assist Cameroonian refugees in guaranteeing long-term or permanent residence status in the U.S. The solution would ensure they are protected against deportation and creates a pathway to citizenship. Humanitarian Parole would also create a pathway for Cameroonians to leave their perilous conditions and immigrate to the U.S., and would bar them from deportation for two years.
Humanitarian Parole would make a difference for Evans Meh, a tech fellow of Cameroon American Council’s Freedom Coders program, who says his mother’s “dying wish” is to reconnect with her oldest daughter, who is still in Cameroon, for a final passage of maternal rites. His mother, a U.S. citizen in hospice care, cannot travel to Cameroon due to her ailing health. Humanitarian parole would allow expedited visa access into the country for relatives of U.S. citizens.
“My U.S. citizen mother deserves to reunite with her daughter, who lives in the war zone of Northwest Region of Cameroon,” Meh said.
According to Bello, the delay in granting TPS is rooted in a racist and anti-Black immigration system. Bello points out that none of the countries currently granted Humanitarian Parole are in Africa.
“The government does not think that African countries also need humanitarian programs,” Bello said. “We want that for Cameroon. I have at least two members of my community who would benefit from a special humanitarian program.”
Despite the ongoing conflicts in Cameroon, ICE deported more than 90 Cameroonians on two deportation flights in October and November 2020. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least several dozen of those deported were denied asylum. In a follow-up report by HRW, they found that Cameroonian authorities subjected dozens of the same asylum-seekers to serious human rights violations. In 2020, 38.4% of Cameroonian asylum claims were denied.
“This life-saving victory was secured by countless hours of work and the extraordinary leadership of Black immigrants,” said Lisa Parisio, CLINIC’s director of advocacy. “While we celebrate, we also pray for and think about the Cameroonians who were deported to danger when TPS should have been in place. Slow-walked TPS designations are deadly and fly in the face of congressional intent and the values of safe haven that underpin the law. Equitable policy and practice require that TPS be used broadly, boldly, and immediately to respond to humanitarian crises for all countries in need.”
Additional relief could help reunite families separated by the conflict. Bello plans to continue advocating for this relief.
“We are putting a warning to [Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro] Mayorkas when it comes to Cameroon,” Bello said. “We will not tolerate the anti-Blackness and the anti-Africanness within immigration.”