Rev. Torli Krua, pastor of the Boston-based Ziah Mission Baptist Church, spoke of an under-reported consequence of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa at the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library in early November.
The status of thousands of citizens from West Africa stranded in the United States with no support due to flight cancellations, border closures and other extraordinary circumstances that Krua spoke of has changed.
As of Nov. 21, the Department of Homeland Security has granted temporary protective status to citizens of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia who have been stuck in the U.S. due to the Ebola epidemic. The change in immigration status will enable citizens from those countries to work in the U.S. for a period of 18 months.
"I feel great," Krua told The Lincoln County News. "The problem of being stranded in winter in a foreign country is no small problem. I've been getting a lot of phone calls from people. Everyone is very happy."
Alfrida Barr, a Liberian, joined Krua at the Boothbay Harbor lecture Nov. 8 to speak about her experience. Barr has been stuck in New England since August with her 2-year-old daughter, Pearl. She was unable to return home and, until recently, she was unable to work in the U.S. to support herself and her daughter.
Krua was actively raising awareness about the plight of stranded West African citizens like Barr through petitions, media advocacy and contact with legislators. He was attempting to have those individuals granted temporary protective status. His efforts were successful.
"This is what democracy is all about," Krua said. "If you see a need, you can't just sit and wait for the government to do something. The people need to stand up and do it."
Jason Schlosser, of Southport, was an early signatory to a petition for temporary protective status circulated by Krua. "I was moved to sign the petition because of the relationships I have with refugees here in New England," Schlosser said.
"The issue became much different for me after interacting with them and seeing their path as displaced persons. Meeting Alfrida and Pearl, knowing that they were homeless, was the reason alone I was moved to sign the petition."
Noting the divisiveness caused by immigration policy, Schlosser said he was pleased to learn that temporary protective status was granted to citizens from the Ebola-ravaged nations of West Africa. But he wished it was something that brought people together rather than tore them apart.
"I was happy for Alfrida and Pearl," Schlosser said. "But I was heavy-hearted about some of the division that the petition caused on the political level. We as people seem to be so easily divided."
The immigration debate has been the subject of heated discourse on Capitol Hill and in local communities. Temporary protective status is not a pathway to citizenship in the U.S. It is a temporary immigration status change extended to foreign nationals under extreme circumstances. It gives them the opportunity to find legal employment in the United States for a limited period of time.
The change in immigration status for the approximately 8,000 individuals from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia stranded in the U.S. will generate revenue for the US government, Krua said. According to him, the fee to apply for temporary protective status is USD518 and the U.S. government will collect taxes on the legal employment of those individuals.