Somalis in US to keep protected status
© Greg Nash

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved on Thursday to extend the special immigration status of Somalis in the U.S., allowing them to remain in the country at least until March 2020. 

Temporary protected status (TPS) was first designated for Somalis in 1991 following the collapse of long-time dictator Siad Barre's government. 

There are roughly 500 Somali beneficiaries of the special status.

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In a statement explaining the decision, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenActing DHS secretary says he expects Russia to attempt to interfere in 2020 elections House Homeland Security rip DHS's 'unacceptable' failure to comply with subpoena Trump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report MORE cited the country's "ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that support Somalia’s current designation for TPS."

Advocates who pushed the government to renew the special immigration status argued that failing to do so would mean sending many Somali TPS beneficiaries to their deaths. 

They cited travel warnings issued by the State Department that advise against travel to Somalia. One particularly macabre advisory issued earlier this month recommended that travelers leave DNA samples with their medical providers before going to Somalia, in case they are needed to identify remains. 

While DHS extended the status for Somalis currently living in the U.S., the decision not does allow more people to apply to the program – a decision that disappointed many advocacy groups.

"Today’s decision speaks to the administration’s larger, ongoing, and well-documented animosity towards people of color and immigrants," Sirine Shebaya, a senior staff attorney for the group Muslim Advocates, said in a statement.
 
She added: "It is not only a mistake, it is a death sentence."