MINNEAPOLIS -- Hundreds of people living in Minnesota are set to lose the temporary immigration status they received during the 2014 Ebola epidemic in three West African countries.
Roughly 11,000 people died during the epidemic. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the hardest hit countries.
"The Ebola was devastating. The economy collapsed, there was no jobs, people were not working, schools were closed, everything came to a halt," recounts Abdullah Kiatamba with African Immigrant Services.
Thousands of West Africans fled to the United States and were granted temporary protected status by the Homeland Security Department. That allowed them to live and work in the U.S. until the outbreak was contained.
“The whole thing was a transitional process. Get adjusted, get integrated into local communities in the United States. Some of them have been going through that process. Now, they've got children in school, they are workers, they work at Walmart, they work in nursing homes, they are drivers, they do some many different things in our communities. They are part of the fabric of our communities," describes Kiatamba.
In 2016, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were declared Ebola free. Kiatamba says, come Sunday, hundreds of West African immigrants in Minnesota will lose their temporary protected status.
"They become illegal. They become undocumented," says Kiatamba. "This is even more critical because of all the immigration things in the country at this point. So, this is another layer of trauma and fear and anxiety. This is just not a problem. It came at a time when there was an existing fear, existing anxiety around executive order and immigration."
But, advocates for West African immigrants say it’s still not safe to go back. Kiatamba says the epidemic took a toll on life in those countries. He says unemployment in West Africa is nearly 80 percent and health care and social services are not running.
Kiatamba says he and others have been working with Minnesota's congressional delegation, but nothing has changed so far. They're hoping West Africans can get connected to a different immigration status.