The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday afternoon that it would be ending Temporary Protected Status for Sudan after a 12-month sunset period. It opted to extend, however, Temporary Protected Status for South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011, through May 2019.
The decision was overdue. By law, decisions on TPS designations are required 60 days before an expiration deadline. With both countries' status set to expire on November 2, the decision was due September 3. DHS said it made a decision in time, but kept it quiet for more than two weeks and did not respond to requests for an explanation.
While the decision on the future of Temporary Protected Status for Sudanese and South Sudanese immigrants only affects just over 1,000 people in the US, the decision is being closely watched as a harbinger of where the administration will go on upcoming TPS decisions that affect more than 400,000 people in the US.
Under Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke's direction on Monday, recipients of protections from Sudan will be allowed to remain protected from deportation and allowed to work under the program until November 2, 2018, during which they are expected to arrange for their departure or seek another immigration status that would allow them to remain in the US.
Individuals from South Sudan will be able to extend their status until May 2, 2019, when DHS will make another decision on their future based on conditions in the country.
According to USCIS data
, at the end of 2016 there were 1,039 temporarily protected immigrants from Sudan in the United States and 49 from South Sudan.
Temporary Protected Status is a type of immigration status provided for by law in cases where a home country may not be hospitable to returning immigrants for temporary circumstances, including in instances of war, epidemic and natural disaster.
While DHS did not explain the delay in publicizing the decision, which the agency confirmed last week was made on time, the law only requires "timely" publication of a TPS determination. The decision was made as the administration was preparing to announce the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a popular program that has protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation since 2012.
Some of the affected individuals have been living in the US for 20 years. TPS is not a blanket protection -- immigrants have to have been living in the US continuously since a country was "designated" for TPS in order to qualify.
For example, Sudan was first designated in 1997 and was re-designated in 1999, 2004 and 2013, meaning people had opportunities to apply if they've been living in the US since any of those dates. South Sudan's TPS was established in 2011 and had re-designations in 2014 and 2016.
Both countries were designated for TPS based on "ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions."
The situation in Sudan has improved in recent years, but there are still concerns about its stability and human rights record. In January, outgoing President Barack Obama eased sanctions on Sudan but made some moves contingent upon further review. President Donald Trump has extended that review period. South Sudan, meanwhile, remains torn by conflict.
Advocates for TPS have expressed fear that if the administration were to begin to unwind the programs, it could be a sign of further decisions to come. In the next six months, roughly 400,000 immigrants' status will be up for consideration, including Central American countries like El Salvador that have been a focus of the Presidents' ire over illegal immigration and gang activity.
California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the top Democrat on the immigration subcommittee for the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview before the decision that ending Sudan's protections could be a sign of more to come.
"I mean look what's going on in Sudan," Lofgren said. "If that is a wise decision, what's an unwise one?"