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Trump administration extends temporary protections for some Yemenis in U.S., strands others

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The Trump administration has extended temporary protections for some Yemenis currently living in the U.S., but the decision also leaves others in a state of limbo.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is supposed to protect people temporarily living in the U.S. from being returned to countries facing war or humanitarian crisis.

Currently, Yemen faces the worst of both. The United Nations has declared the country the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 20 million facing rampant disease and possible starvation as a three-year armed conflict rages on there.

But the Trump administration decided to extend TPS for only about 1,250 Yemenis already covered by the program for another 18 months. It did not extend the protection to more recent arrivals.

“To be eligible for TPS under Yemen’s current designation, along with meeting the other eligibility requirements, individuals must have continuously resided in the United States since January 4, 2017, and have been continuously physically present in the United States since March 4, 2017,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a news release about the decision.

Anisa Sahoubah, a Yemeni American who works for an education and social services organization in metro Detroit, says the decision leaves Yemenis who came to the U.S. in the past 18 months unprotected.

“This is great, and it’s going to protect 1,250 individuals, but what happens to those who have arrived within the past 18 months?” Sahoubah said.

Sahoubah said the Yemeni community is also “wondering about the logic behind this. If it’s unsafe enough to extend TPS [for some], then how is it safe to send [back] those who arrived within the past 18 months?”

“It’s a big deal right now. There’s lot of discussion around what will happen with these families.”

Rima Meroueh, manager of advocacy and community engagement with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), says the decision to not formally re-designate Yemen “as a TPS country of origin is going to leave thousands of families in limbo.”

Meroueh says the fact that Yemen is also one of the countries covered under President Trump’stravel ban is something of a double whammy for people hoping to escape that country for the U.S.

“The fact that you have this issue preventing Yemenis from coming, but also the travel ban also doing the same thing … we’ve essentially closed to our doors to people who are in a war zone,” she said.

The exact number of people directly impacted by this decision is not currently known.

Yemen's TPS status had been set to expire July 5. Yemenis were first offered TPS protections in 2015, and the country was re-designated in 2017.

Southeast Michigan is home to a substantial Yemeni community within its larger Arab American population, centered largely in the cities of Dearborn and Hamtramck.

Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Democrat whose district includes Dearborn, thanked the Trump administration for the limited extension.

“For Yemeni citizens living in the United States the looming expiration of Temporary Protected Status created uncertainty and a fear that they would be returned to a war-torn country,” Dingell said in a statement. “Forcing these Yemen citizens back to a country which remains in a constant state of war is potentially life-threatening. The extension of TPS status for Yemen is warranted, and I’m pleased to see more compassion and certainty for Yemenis impacted during this difficult time.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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