Hundreds of Africans living in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota are about to lose their temporary immigrant status.
As many as 5,000 people were granted the special protected status in 2014 when an Ebola epidemic hit three West African nations, allowing residents from the impacted countries to live and work in the U.S. legally until the outbreak was contained.
Last year, those countries were declared Ebola free. Now, those with temporary immigrant status must either return home or obtain legal status, Minnesota Public Radio reported this week.
Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, who along with other immigration leaders is calling the termination premature, says Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are still recovering from the outbreak, so it’s still not safe to go home.
John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said health care systems in the countries hit hardest by Ebola were already delicate before the outbreak. “It’s great these countries have been declared Ebola free, but the toll that fighting Ebola took on the countries, you have to take that into effect, too,” he said.
Kiatamba estimates that between 200 and 500 people will be affected. Officials haven’t released numbers, and it is unclear how many of the immigrants have returned home or found other ways to make their immigration status permanent.
Kiatamba said that more than 11,000 people died during the Ebola outbreak, but that its impact goes beyond the health care system.
“The employment system, economic system, social system, health have all collapsed,” he said. “Their coming to the U.S. was a very important humanitarian step, and I think the reason for their coming has totally not been eliminated.”
The temporary immigration status was originally issued for an 18-month period. It was extended twice, each time for six months.