Diana Konaté, policy director of African Communities Together, counted among several advocates who engaged Biden administration officials and congressional members in dialogue about designating temporary protection status for some African countries and extending it for others during The Week of Action. (Courtesy photo)
Diana Konaté, policy director of African Communities Together, counted among several advocates who engaged Biden administration officials and congressional members in dialogue about designating temporary protection status for some African countries and extending it for others during The Week of Action. (Courtesy photo)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the M23 rebel group, what many thought was a relic of the past, has reemerged over the past couple of years as an active terror group that has killed thousands of Congolese people and displaced millions more.  

Amid ongoing attempts to quell violence in DRC and take neighboring Rwanda to task for its alleged support of M23, organizers continue to appeal to the Biden-Harris administration for the designation of temporary protected status (TPS) for Congolese immigrants living in the U.S. 

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas can award TPS to U.S. residents who are fleeing countries that are temporarily experiencing armed conflict, natural disasters and epidemics, and other extenuating circumstances that threaten their safety. 

Many Congolese organizers, including Nils Kinuani, said DRC fits the bill for TPS designation that temporarily protects immigrants from deportation and provides them work authorization while living in the U.S. 

In the 1990s, a young Kinuani escaped his hometown of Bukavu in eastern DRC at the height of an armed conflict that has claimed more than 5 million lives. He has spent a significant portion of his professional career helping other Congolese people living in the U.S., especially as it relates to ensuring their residency is protected. 

During the latter part of May, Kinuani represented the Congolese Community of Washington Metropolitan (CCWM) during a Week of Action when dozens of advocates engaged Biden-Harris administration officials and congressional members about their campaign to secure TPS or TPS extensions for several African countries. 

Kinuani told The Informer that without a TPS designation, Congolese adults and children who are deported face arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, torture, forced recruitment as soldiers, and execution when they return to DRC. 

“We know that Congress is busy but we have been working closely with the Congressional Black Caucus,” said Kinuani, CCWM’s immigration coordinator. “The situation with the DRC has been going on for 25 years. DRC deserves TPS [because] our community members contribute to the American economy and we have family members here who are citizens.”

Looking Back: The Week of Action 

The Week of Action on May 22-26, coordinated by grassroots organization African Communities Together (ACT), brought together advocates of various backgrounds to engage White House officials in dialogue about designating TPS for some African countries and renewing it for others. 

In addition to DRC, advocates demanded TPS designations for Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria. They also have their eye on TPS extensions for Sudan, South Sudan and Cameroon. Over the last few years, they’ve secured designations for those countries as well as Haiti, Ethiopia, and Somalia, even with what many describe as special and immediate attention given to Ukraine and other non-majority Black countries. 

This effort, which took place in the days leading up to African Liberation Day on May 25, came at a time when the Biden-Harris administration narrowed the path to asylum for undocumented migrants entering the U.S., via the expiration of Title 42. 

Congressional Republicans, eager to spur a mass exodus of immigrants, continue to pressure House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to issue articles of impeachment against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Myorkas for what they describe as violation of the Constitution and U.S. border security.  

Advocates have garnered the support of Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) and Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), all of whom spoke about the significance of TPS during the Week of Action. 

Vince Evans, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, also paid advocates a visit during a roundtable they hosted toward the end of the Week of Action. Other speakers featured at the roundtable included Kinuani along with ACT policy director Diana Konaté and Daniel Tse, founder of the Cameroon Advocacy Network. 

Along with other ACT members, Konaté, a Liberian-Ivorian organizer who benefitted from TPS as a youth, has spent much of her time organizing Malians in the D.C. metropolitan area, Philadelphia and New York around TPS. 

That work has included visiting mosques, conducting information sessions and inviting Malians and Congolese to Whatsapp groups to keep them abreast of latest developments. ACT has taken similar actions with the Sudanese community during the Trump presidency when such protections for immigrants were under siege. 

“Africa tends to have the greatest humanitarian need globally, so this is a way to protect Africans who are here and don’t qualify for asylum because of narrow eligibility,” Konaté said. “Some of the conversation is around how long does it take [to install TPS for countries]. We know it can take eight days [in the case of Ukraine]. With the Republican attempt to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Myorkas, there might be pressure on the Biden administration to do less. Republicans will never be happy. This is not the time to shy away from protecting people.” 

Exposing the Elephant in the Room 

In 1990, Congress passed and President George H.W. Bush signed an immigration law in 1990 that authorized the TPS program. Through the program, migrants from certain countries are protected from deportation for a period of 18 months, with the possibility of such status getting renewed. 

TPS recipients are not currently eligible for permanent residency or U.S. citizenship unless they enter other immigration processes. 

The Congressional Research Service says that TPS recipients live in the District, all 50 states and U.S. territories, with the highest concentration living in Florida, Texas, California and New York. Most of them have lived in the U.S. for at least two decades. For many countries, TPS designations have been extended, sometimes automatically six months at a time when federal officials don’t make a decision on whether to grant an extension. 

Upon entering office, President Joe Biden (D) asked Congress to pass legislation allowing TPS recipients who meet certain qualifications to apply for green cards making them permanent residents. The Biden-Harris administration has made some headway in reversing some attempts by the Trump administration to eliminate TPS.   

Even so, the ongoing lawsuits that popped up as a result of Trump’s efforts have many TPS participants in a state of limbo about their status. 

As of April, nearly 670,000 U.S. immigrants are receiving TPS or have eligibility. They hail from Afghanistan, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, among others. While campaigns to secure TPS have taken months or years, Ukrainians clinched protections shortly after the Russia-Ukraine conflict started, much to the chagrin of advocates like Daniel Tse. 

Tse, founder of the Cameroon Advocacy Network, led a successful campaign for Cameroon’s TPS designation last year. With the status set to expire at the end of this year, Tse said he’s hard at work to allay the fears of those vulnerable Cameroonians fleeing violence in their home country. He told The Informer that they often worry about deportation, so much so that they don’t even leave their houses. 

For Tse, building upon previous successes requires exposing institutional racism as the elephant in the room. 

“The Department of Homeland Security should provide TPS for all [nations that meet the criteria] and stay away from the double standard,” said Tse, who’s also a joint legal fellow at Haitian Bridge Alliance and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We have been working for two to six years, but it took Ukraine eight days to get TPS. It wasn’t created to be a political tool, but we think there’s been political motivation [hence] the delays.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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