January 13, 2020

Harris, Feinstein, Senate Colleagues Call on Trump Administration to Extend Humanitarian Protections for Somali Nationals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and 15 of their Democratic Senate colleagues in calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to extend humanitarian protections granted to hundreds of Somali nationals who have taken refuge in our nation before the deadline to decide whether to extend protections on January 17 of this year.

Somalia was first designated for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) nearly 30 years ago because of ongoing civil war, human rights abuses and violence in the country. These conditions continue to persist, which is why the lawmakers are pressing to extend TPS protections so the hundreds of Somali nationals living in the United States will not be forced to face dangerous conditions.

“This protection has helped protect immigrants from returning to dangerous conditions and helped designated countries better focus their efforts to allow for a safe reintegration in the future. Forcing Somali TPS holders to return now would not only place these individuals in jeopardy, but would also uproot their families and children, many of whom are U.S. citizens Somali TPS holders have been an important part of countless communities, where they contribute to business growth and are vital participants in the workforce,” wrote the lawmakers. 

They continued, “It is clear that the conditions in Somalia meet the statutory standards for TPS designation, and that returning Somali TPS holders would face an extreme risk of violence and human rights abuses. Given the armed conflict and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Somalia, the re-designation and extension of TPS for Somalia is necessary to protect this population.”

Along with Senators Harris, Feinstein, and Smith, the letter was also signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

You can access a copy of the letter below:

The Honorable Chad Wolf 

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20016

 

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary

U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Secretary Pompeo:

We write to urge you to extend and re-designate Somalia for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) before the deadline on January 17, 2020. Conditions in the country continue to meet the statutory standards for TPS designation, and extending this protection would prevent Somali TPS holders from returning to uncertain and unsafe conditions and allow them to remain in the United States until circumstances in their home country are further improved. 

Somalia was first designated for TPS in September 1991 due to extraordinary and temporary conditions in the country. Somalia was re-designated in 2001 and 2012. Most recently, TPS designation for Somalia was extended through March 17, 2020 because conditions in the country, including “ongoing armed conflict,” “extrajudicial killings,” and “the need for the rehabilitation of crucial infrastructure” prevent approximately 500 Somali nationals from returning safely.  According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s extension announcement in 2018, “the conditions supporting Somalia’s designation for TPS continue to be met.” 

These conditions continue to persist, therefore extension and re-designation of Somali for TPS is necessary and justified. The Human Rights Watch Country Summary for Somalia released in January, 2019, confirms that the government “has made no tangible progress reining in abusive security forces,” and the judicial proceedings needed to reign in these offenses “[fall] far short of international fair trial standards.”  The State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices released in April, 2018 states, “Clan militias and al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country, including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations. They also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.”   The report notes that there has been a rise in al-Shabaab recruitment of children, killings by clan militias, violence directed at humanitarian organizations, and internal displacement. 

In a statement from United Nations (UN) Envoy James Swan to the Security Council in November 2019, Swan reported that “insecurity remains a major challenge,” and “Al Shabaab continues to execute deadly terrorist attacks against civilians as well as military targets.”  The UN Assistance Mission in Somalia recounted the increase in violence during Ramadan, in the summer of 2019, when there were “several high-profile terrorist attacks.”  There were more violent incidents during this period than in 2017 and 2018.  The UN Mission also reported that Somalia is still facing challenges due to the severe and prolonged drought of 2016-2017, an estimated 2.2 million people are facing acute food insecurity as a result.  

On October 28, 2019, the State Department issued a travel advisory that warns U.S. citizens not to travel to the country due to “crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health issues, kidnapping, and piracy.”  Clearly, there is considerable risk that Somali nationals forced to return to their home country would face significant danger and unsafe conditions. 

In 1990, Congress established TPS as a form of humanitarian relief for foreign nationals in the United States who would not be able to safely return to their home countries or for countries that would not be able to handle the return of nationals due to extraordinary conditions. Since then, this protection has helped protect immigrants from returning to dangerous conditions and helped designated countries better focus their efforts to allow for a safe reintegration in the future. Forcing Somali TPS holders to return now would not only place these individuals in jeopardy, but would also uproot their families and children, many of whom are U.S. citizens. Somali TPS holders have been an important part of countless communities, where they contribute to business growth and are vital participants in the workforce.

It is clear that the conditions in Somalia meet the statutory standards for TPS designation, and that returning Somali TPS holders would face an extreme risk of violence and human rights abuses. Given the armed conflict and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Somalia, the re-designation and extension of TPS for Somalia is necessary to protect this population. 

Sincerely,

###