Last Friday, April 15th, after years of advocacy led by directly impacted community members and Black immigrant advocacy groups, such as the Cameroon Advocacy Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, UndocuBlack Network and allies, DHS designated TPS for Cameroon for 18 months.
This is a hard-fought and long overdue victory for all Black immigrants.
The unnecessary delay in announcing this designation, which resulted in the detention, forced disappearance, sexual assault and torture suffered by Cameroonian asylum seekers deported back painfully showcases the anti-Blackness that exists within the immigration enforcement system at large. A key step towards remedying the harms caused by the delay in designation is a strategic and equitable implementation plan.
These are recommendations for successful implementation of TPS for Cameroon:
- We are celebrating the long overdue designation of Cameroon for TPS. The efforts of the Cameroonian communities across the U.S. and Black immigrant organizations such as Cameroon Advocacy Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack Network with the support of allies lead to this victory. As we celebrate the recent decision, we must also underscore that a strategic implementation is essential to ensure that this designation provides protection from deportation and the opportunity to receive work permits for the 40,000 eligible people.
- Immediately publish the Federal Register Notice: An immediate publication of the Federal Register Notice (FRN) is the first step towards providing eligible Cameroonians the opportunity to apply for TPS. An FRN publication would officially open the registration period needed to free Cameroonians who are currently incarcerated in immigration detention, subject to requests for detainers or notification, or otherwise subject to enforcement and continue to be at risk of return to a country that through this announcement, has been deemed unsafe to return to. It is also important to note that a delayed FRN publication will create an environment in which those engaged in the unauthorized practice of immigration law can thrive and take advantage of the confusion of a TPS announcement without immediate implementation.
- Waive registration fee: The law does not require any fee to be charged to newly register for TPS. In order to promote accessibility and in the spirit that TPS is life-saving protection, USCIS should not implement a fee for new Cameroonian registrants. This is particularly critical in light of the ongoing economic strife as a result of COVID-19, with many individuals depleting their savings or being unable to secure and maintain employment.
- Put in place a robust, culturally competent outreach plan including: Immediately coordinating with ICE and CBP to ensure that eligible Cameroonians currently detained in ICE/CBP custody have access to legal services and are immediately able to apply for TPS. DHS can do this through partnerships with community-based organizations to ensure access to services.
a. Identifying culturally competent channels to deliver essential information to Cameroonians who will be eligible for TPS. This should include exploring funding/grants to NGOs to assist in resourcing outreach programs.
b. Extensive education and outreach to combat notario fraud, especially while the FRN is pending.
c. Stakeholder engagement within one week of published FRN and ongoing engagements throughout the registration period.
d. USCIS Community Relations Officers (CROs) holding at least biweekly events in areas with high Cameroonian populations throughout the duration of the registration/re-registration period. To ensure that eligible Cameroonians have information and apply for TPS protection, CROs should conduct outreach to local governments, community-based organizations, religious institutions, and more. CROs should also reach out to departments of motor vehicles and major employers to help navigate and troubleshoot issues that may arise for current TPS holders re-registering.
e. Regular coordination with the Department of Justice Immigrant and Employee Rights Section as well as Congressional inquiry services at offices in districts with large Cameroonian populations to receive feedback on issues that Cameroonians are facing with their TPS at work, departments of motor vehicles, and elsewhere.
- Address USCIS processing issues: Ensuring that TPS holders receive new work permits as soon as possible in order to minimize confusion and issues at work and departments of motor vehicles. For applicants who already have biometric information on file, USCIS should, especially in light of COVID-19, waive biometrics appointments – a standard set by USCIS in the past year.
- Regularly publish data on status of new registrations: USCIS should publish data on a monthly basis to show how many Cameroonians have newly registered and re-registered to assist advocacy groups in their efforts to fill in gaps in outreach, education, and legal services needs. USCIS should also provide data on the number of accepted, denied, pending, and rejected applications; for denials, USCIS should publish the grounds for denial.
Other majority-Black countries that meet the requirements for relief must also receive TPS designation immediately. We hope Mauritania with the widespread practice of enslaving its Black population and Ethiopia with the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in its Tigray region will also receive TPS designation soon.
Words By: Bethelhem T. Negash