Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Friday extended a humanitarian reprieve for dozens of South Sudanese who have been in the U.S. for years, avoiding the chaos of their home country.
Ms. Nielsen granted an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status, meaning 84 people will be able to remain in the U.S. until late in 2020.
The move had been expected, but some immigrant-rights activists had said there was some doubt given the Trump administration’s less expansive view of TPS, which some officials say has become a backdoor path to extended legal status for hundreds of thousands of people from troubled nations.
The Department of Homeland Security said the decision to extend TPS was made after a careful review of conditions in the young African nation. Officials determined that the chaos that led to the initial TPS designation several years ago under President Barack Obama remains.
TPS grants work permits and prevents beneficiaries from being deported even if their other legal status has run out.
The program has become hugely controversial in recent years as the Trump administration tried to end protections for some countries that have held status for two decades — including El Salvador, with more than 200,000 people protected.
Courts have blocked those moves.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Democrats and some Republicans have urged TPS holders be granted a full pathway to citizenship, arguing that the U.S. let them put down roots and build families here, and it would be cruel to ask them to return to their homes after so many years.
TPS is supposed to be granted to countries suffering from natural disasters, war or other destabilizing events. It’s supposed to last until the condition clears up.
But for a country such as Haiti, which was already in trouble before a 2010 earthquake, determining when conditions have returned to what they were is hotly debated.
In the case of South Sudan, war has raged almost since the nation was formed.
A peace agreement has been reached, but the country is still facing instability and famine.
Refugee groups said the Trump administration fell short Friday, saying it should have not only extended TPS for another 18 months, but also allowed a new round of applicants to sign up.
Only those in the U.S. at the time of original designation are allowed to apply for the TPS extension.
“By extending but failing to re-designate TPS for South Sudan, the administration is signaling that it recognizes that South Sudan is not safe but is arbitrarily not willing to extend protections for those that arrived after a specific date,” the International Rescue Committee said.