Hundreds of Africans including Liberians living in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota are about to lose their temporary immigrant status, the Voice of America (VOA) has reported.
According to the station, as many as 5,000 people were granted the special protected status in 2014 when an Ebola epidemic hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, allowing some of the residents to live and work in the U.S. legally until the outbreak was contained.
Last year, the three worst hit countries were declared Ebola free.
"Now, those with temporary immigrant status must either return home or obtain legal status," Minnesota Public Radio reported earlier this week.
Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, who along with other immigration leaders is calling the termination premature, says Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are still recovering from the outbreak, so it's still not safe for the citizens to go home.
John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said health care systems in the countries hit hardest by Ebola were already delicate before the outbreak. "It's great these countries have been declared Ebola free, but the toll that fighting Ebola took on the countries, you have to take that into effect, too," he said.
Kiatamba estimates that between 200 and 500 people will be affected. Officials have not released numbers, and it is unclear how many of the immigrants have returned home or found other ways to make their immigration status permanent.
Kiatamba said that more than 11,000 people died during the Ebola outbreak, but that its impact goes beyond the health care system.
"The employment system, economic system, social system, health have all collapsed," he said.
He said, "citizens from those countries coming to the U.S. was a very important humanitarian step, and I think the reason for their coming has totally not been eliminated."
The temporary immigration status was originally issued for an 18-month period. It was extended twice, each time for six months.