WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration said on Thursday it would allow some 1,250 Yemenis to remain in the United States for at least another 18 months under protected status as war and a humanitarian crisis rage in their native country.
Yemenis in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will be able to re-register for an extension of their status through March 3, 2020, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The status grants beneficiaries the ability to legally work while they are in the United States.
“After carefully reviewing conditions in Yemen with interagency partners, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen determined that the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that support Yemen’s current designation for TPS continue to exist,” the statement said.
But Nielsen stopped short of “re-designating” Yemen’s TPS status, which means that it will continue to benefit only Yemenis who have been in the United States since early 2017 or before, and not those who arrived afterward. The administration made a similar decision for Syrian beneficiaries of the protected status in January.
The Trump administration has shown a deep skepticism toward the temporary protected status program, announcing its end for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Sudan since President Trump took office last year.
The administration’s decision on Yemen would leave “many Yemenis in the U.S. in legal limbo,” Scott Paul of Oxfam America, a humanitarian group, said in a statement. “Continuing to grant TPS will not solve the crisis, but is the least we can do for the Yemenis who have arrived in the U.S. seeking safety and protection.”
Yemen was originally designated for TPS on September 3, 2015, based on the ongoing armed conflict and was redesignated and extended for an additional 18 months on January 4, 2017.
Yemen has been undergoing an intense civil war since at least 2015, but conditions have only worsened since then. More than 2 million people have been internally displaced and three-quarters of the population urgently need humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity is widespread and could quickly become a famine. Yemen is also wracked by one of the worst cholera epidemics ever recorded, alongside the spread of other diseases such as diphtheria. With health care facilities and infrastructure impacted by the conflict, the country’s ability to control these outbreaks is seriously diminished.
There is no question that the conditions in Yemen are sufficiently unsafe and that TPS holders continue to need protection from returning there. But on the heels of the discriminatory travel ban, which includes Yemen, being upheld by the Supreme Court last week, the halt of resettling Yemeni refugees and the systematic termination of TPS designations for six countries since last September, many worried the extension would not be guaranteed.
As part of an effort to ensure that the decision making would not be politicized, country conditions and foreign policy experts offered their insight to decisionmakers.
“To send a Yemeni back to Yemen at this time, it is simply a death sentence,” stated former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, who joined other national security experts calling on the administration to continue TPS for Yemen. Forty members of Congress led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D- Michigan), also weighed in with Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen and Secretary of State Pompeo, urging them to re-designate and extend TPS.
Arab American and human rights organizations have put public pressure on the administration in the last few weeks to renew Yemen’s TPS leading to Thursday’s announcement.