The Department of Homeland Security announced a new deportation amnesty for Ethiopians, saying the conflict in their home country means they have access to Temporary Protected Status here in the U.S.
The move, which immigrant rights advocates had been demanding, is the latest flex of executive powers by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who in 20 months has granted a deportation reprieve to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the country illegally.
“Ethiopian nationals currently residing in the U.S. who cannot safely return due to conflict-related violence and a humanitarian crisis involving severe food shortages, flooding, drought and displacement will be able to remain and work in the United States until conditions in their home country improve,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
He cited both armed conflict and “extraordinary and temporary conditions” of drought, food scarcity and disease in Ethiopia that he said make it dangerous for citizens to return home from abroad.
TPS grants an 18-month stay of deportation and entitles recipients to work permits, allowing them to put down roots here.
It is supposed to be a temporary status that expires when conditions in home countries improve, though there are hundreds of thousands of people who have been living under TPS since the turn of the century, with subsequent administrations and federal judges ordering that the status be renewed.
To qualify for TPS, a migrant must be in the U.S. on the date of designation and must clear a records check run by Homeland Security.
Those here illegally can apply, as can those on legal temporary visas.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have also advanced legislation that would convert the temporary status into a full pathway to citizenship for longtime TPS holders.
Advocates had been pushing for a TPS designation for Ethiopia for months.
They suggested there were racial problems with how the Biden administration was administering the program after Afghanistan and Ukraine were granted TPS but Ethiopia languished.
After the announcement on Friday, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it was a good step. But he said he wants to see new TPS designations for Central and South Americans, too.
Those would cover potentially millions of people.
Homeland Security didn’t say how many Ethiopians it expects will be eligible, but the Catholic Legal Immigration Network said it should cover nearly 30,000 people. That information is likely to follow in a full regulatory filing later.
The Washington area is home to a large Ethiopian community, with several sources citing it as the largest community outside of Ethiopia itself.
Activists cheered Friday’s announcement.
“The move is a potentially lifesaving reprieve for tens of thousands of Ethiopians who have already contributed so much to U.S. communities,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.