PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Thousands of West African immigrants sought refuge in the Philadelphia area when the Ebola virus ravaged their home countries. Now that the crisis is over, many could lose the right to stay in the United States.
“I’m disappointed because I lost everything,” said Mariama Boakai. “Going back and starting my life over is very, very disappointing.”READ MORE: District Attorney Larry Krasner, Mayor Jim Kenney Speak Out On Philadelphia's Ongoing Gun Violence Crisis
Boakai came to Philadelphia from Liberia on a one year visa. But that visa expired in 2015 while Ebola was claiming lives.
“Since I lost my husband, everything went away, she said. “When Ebola came I couldn’t go back anymore.”READ MORE: Habitat For Humanity Breaks Ground On Four Montgomery County Homes
Immigration gave her Temporary Protected Status – or TPS – because of Ebola. She’s gotten a job and built a new life. But TPS status expires for her and thousands of others in May 2017.
“Many of them are panicking because they have to leave this environment.,” said Vofee Jabateh, who runs the African Cultural Alliance of North America, a Philadelphia group that serves 50,000 African and Caribbean immigrants. “Some of them have established families, some of them have acquired new skills.”
The group is asking the U.S. government to give deferred protected status to immigrants from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.MORE NEWS: Teenager Killed In Trenton Shooting Identified As Shemiah Davis, Mercer County Prosecutor's Office Says
They are hoping Homeland security finds a compelling reason to allow these immigrants to stay.