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Notice

Termination of the Designation of Sierra Leone Under the Temporary Protected Status Program; Extension of Employment Authorization Documentation

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Homeland Security.

ACTION:

Notice.

SUMMARY:

The designation of Sierra Leone under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Program will expire on November 2, 2003. After reviewing country conditions and consulting with the appropriate Government agencies, the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined that conditions in Sierra Leone no longer support TPS designation and is therefore terminating the TPS designation of Sierra Leone. This termination is effective May 3, 2004, six months from the end of the current extension. To provide for an orderly transition, nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who have been granted TPS under the Sierra Leone designation or redesignation will automatically retain their temporary protected status and have their current Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) extended until the termination date. However, an individual's TPS may still be withdrawn because of ineligibility for TPS, prior failure to timely re-register if there was not good cause for such failure, or failure to maintain continuous physical presence in the United States. On May 3, 2004, nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who have been granted TPS under the Sierra Start Printed Page 52408Leone designation or redesignation will no longer have TPS status.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

The TPS designation of Sierra Leone is terminated effective May 3, 2004.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jonathan Mills, Residence and Status Services, Office of Programs and Regulations, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 425 “I” Street, NW., Room 3040, Washington, DC 20536, telephone (202) 514-4754.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

What Authority Does the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Have To Terminate the Designation of Sierra Leone Under the TPS Program?

On March 1, 2003, the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (Service) transferred from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296. The responsibilities for administering the TPS program held by the Service were transferred to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

Under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act), 8 U.S.C. 1254a, the Secretary of DHS, after consultation with appropriate agencies of the Government, is authorized to designate a foreign state or (part thereof) for TPS. The Secretary of DHS may then grant TPS to eligible nationals of that foreign state (or aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in that state).

Section 244(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires the Secretary of DHS to review, at least 60 days before the end of the TPS designation or any extension thereof, the conditions in a foreign state designated under the TPS program to determine whether the conditions for a TPS designation continue to be met and, if so, the length of an extension of TPS. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(3)(A). If the Secretary of DHS determines that the foreign state no longer meets the conditions for TPS designation, he shall terminate the designation, but such termination may not take effect earlier than 60 days after the date the Federal Register notice of termination is published. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(3)(B). The Secretary of DHS may determine the appropriate effective date of the termination in order to provide an orderly transition. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(d)(3).

Why Did the Secretary of DHS Decide To Terminate the TPS Designation for Sierra Leone as of May 3, 2004?

On November 4, 1997, the Attorney General published a notice in the Federal Register designating Sierra Leone under the TPS program based upon ongoing armed conflict occurring within the country. 62 FR 59736. The Attorney General extended this TPS designation annually and re-designated Sierra Leone by publishing a notice on November 9, 1999, determining in each instance that the conditions warranting such designation continued to be met. 64 FR 61125.

Since the date of the last extension, the Departments of Homeland Security and State have continued to review conditions in Sierra Leone. It is determined that termination of the TPS designation of Sierra Leone is warranted because there is no longer an ongoing armed conflict within Sierra Leone that would pose a serious threat to the personal safety of returning nationals of Sierra Leone (or aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone). 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(1)(A) and (B).

The Department of State (DOS) notes that the armed conflict that provided the basis for the Sierra Leone TPS designation is over. DOS Recommendation (June 19, 2003). Most of Sierra Leone has been at peace for nearly three years. Id. More than 66,000 ex-combatants have entered into a program of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration into society. Id. Disarmament was largely complete by January 2002, and there has been no fighting since that time. Id. Peaceful multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections took place in May 2002. Id.

A year ago, the overall political situation was fragile. Id. Since then, however, human rights abuses have decreased dramatically nationwide. Id. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers no area of the country unsafe to return. Id. More than 400,000 refugees have returned home to participate in the reconstruction of their country. Id. Of the approximately 45,000 refugees remaining in neighboring countries, two-thirds are expected to return home by December 2003. Id. In addition, reintegration of the 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) is nearly complete. Id.

While there are approximately 60,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone, they are concentrated along the eastern border with Liberia and have not caused any instability in Sierra Leone. Id. Furthermore, there have been no recent cross-border attacks from Liberia into Sierra Leone. Id.

The BCIS Resource Information Center (RIC) notes additional indications of stability. RIC Report (July 10, 2003). A special court has been created to bring to justice those most responsible for war crimes and other major human rights violations. Id. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been established to establish a record of the conflict and promote reconciliation. Id. Humanitarian and economic conditions have improved markedly. Id.

The newly elected government enjoys significant international support and has extended police control across the country. DOS Recommendation. A British-trained police force is in place. RIC Report. The British government continues to assist and train Sierra Leone's 10,000-member armed forces and has committed to providing significant support for at least six years. DOS Recommendation. The United Nations (U.N.) Security Council has determined that security conditions have improved so much that the international U.N. peacekeeping force, which once numbered 17,500 troops, can be phased out. Id. The peacekeeping force currently numbers 14,000, and will further decrease to about 9,000 by year's end. Id.

Based upon this review, the Secretary of DHS, after consultation with appropriate government agencies, finds that the conditions that prompted designation of Sierra Leone under the TPS program no longer exist. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(3). There is not an ongoing armed conflict within Sierra Leone that would pose a serious threat to the personal safety of returning aliens who are nationals of Sierra Leone (or aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone). 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(1)(A). Based upon these findings, the Secretary of DHS is terminating the TPS designation for Sierra Leone as of May 3, 2004. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(3)(B).

To provide for an orderly transition, nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who have been granted TPS under the Sierra Leone designation or redesignation will automatically retain TPS status and have their current employment authorization documents (EADs) extended until the termination date. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(a)(2) and (d)(3). These persons are urged to use the time before termination of their TPS to apply for any other immigration benefits they are eligible for or, in the alternative, prepare Start Printed Page 52409for and arrange their return to Sierra Leone.

If I Currently Have TPS Through the Sierra Leone TPS Program, Do I Need to Re-Register To Keep My TPS Until May 3, 2004, the Termination Date?

No. If you already have been granted TPS benefits through the Sierra Leone TPS program, you do not have to re-register to keep your TPS benefits. You will automatically retain TPS until the termination date. However, your TPS status may still be withdrawn pursuant to section 244(c)(3) of the Act because of ineligibility for TPS, prior failure to timely re-register if there was not good cause for such failure, or failure to maintain continuous physical presence in the United States. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(c)(3), 8 CFR 244.14. When termination occurs on May 3, 2004, you will no longer have TPS.

Why Is the Secretary of DHS Automatically Extending the Validity of EADs From November 2, 2003, to May 3, 2004?

The Secretary of DHS has decided to extend automatically the validity of EADs to provide for an orderly transition leading up to the effective date for the termination of the Sierra Leone TPS designation. Therefore, the validity of the applicable EADs is extended for a period of 6 months, to May 3, 2004. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(a)(2) and (d)(3).

Who Is eligible To Receive an Automatic Extension of His or Her EAD?

To receive an automatic extension of his or her EAD, an individual must be a national of Sierra Leone (or an alien having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who has applied for and received an EAD under the TPS designation or redesignation of Sierra Leone. This automatic extension is limited to EADs issued on either Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document, or Form I-688B, Employment Authorization Card, bearing an expiration date of November 2, 2003. The EAD must also be either (1) a Form I-766 bearing the notation “A-12” or “C-19” on the face of the card under “Category”; or (2) a Form I-688B bearing the notation “274A.12(A)(12)” or “274A.12(C)(19)” on the face of the card under “Provision of Law”.

Must Qualified Individuals Apply for the Automatic Extension of Their TPS-Related EADs Until May 3, 2004?

No. Qualified individuals do not have to apply for this extension of their TPS-related EADs to May 3, 2004.

What Documents May a Qualified Individual Show to His or Her Employer as Proof of Employment Authorization and Identity When Completing the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (Form I-9)?

For completion of the Form I-9 at the time of hire or re-verification, qualified individuals who have received an extension of their EADs by virtue of this Federal Register notice may present to their employer a TPS-related EAD as proof of identity and employment authorization until May 3, 2004. To minimize confusion over this extension at the time of hire or re-verification, qualified individuals may also present to their employer a copy of this Federal Register notice regarding the automatic extension of employment authorization documentation to May 3, 2004. In the alternative, any legally acceptable document or combination of documents listed in List A, List B, or List C of the Form I-9 may be presented as proof of identity and employment eligibility; it is the choice of the employee.

How May Employers Determine Whether an EAD Has Been Automatically Extended Through May 3, 2004 and Is Therefore Acceptable for Completion of the Form I-9?

For purposes of verifying identity and employment eligibility or re-verifying employment eligibility on the Form I-9 until May 3, 2004, employers of Sierra Leone TPS class members whose EADs have been automatically extended by this notice must accept such EAD if presented. An EAD that has been automatically extended by this notice will contain an expiration date of November 2, 2003, and must be either (1) a Form I-766 bearing the notation “A-12” or “C-19” on the face of the card under “Category”, or (2) a Form I-688B bearing the notation “274A.12(A)(12)” or “274A.12(C)(19)” on the face of the card under “Provision of Law”. New EADs or extension stickers showing the May 3, 2004 expiration date will not be issued.

Employers should not request proof of Sierra Leone citizenship. Employers presented with an EAD that this Federal Register notice has extended automatically, that appears to be genuine and appears to relate to the employee should accept the document as a valid “List A” document and should not ask for additional Form I-9 documentation. This action by the Secretary of the DHS through this Federal Register notice does not affect the right of an employee to present any legally acceptable document as proof of identity and eligibility for employment.

Employers are reminded that the laws prohibiting unfair immigration-related employment practices remain in full force. For questions, employers may call the BCIS Office of Business Liaison Employer Hotline at 1-800-357-2099 to speak to a BCIS representative. Also, employers may call the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) Employer Hotline at 1-800-255-8155 or 1-800-362-2735 (TDD). Employees or applicants may call the OSC Employee Hotline at 1-800-255-7688 or 1-800-237-2515 (TDD) for information regarding the automatic extension. Additional information is available on the OSC Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/​crt/​osc/​index.html.

What May I Do if I Believe That Returning to Sierra Leone Would Be Unsafe?

This notice terminates the designation of Sierra Leone for TPS. For nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) in the United States who believe that their particular circumstances make return to Sierra Leone unsafe, there may be avenues of immigration relief and protection available. Such avenues may include, but are not limited to, asylum, withholding of removal, or protection under Article 3 of the Torture Convention.

Eligibility for these and other immigration benefits is determined individually on a case-by-case basis. For information on eligibility and how to apply, visit the BCIS web site at http://www.bcis.gov or call the BCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

How Does the Termination of TPS Affect Former TPS Beneficiaries?

After the designation of Sierra Leone for TPS is terminated on May 3, 2004, former TPS beneficiaries will maintain the same immigration status they held prior to TPS (unless that status has since expired or been terminated) or any other status they may have acquired while registered for TPS. Accordingly, if an alien held no lawful immigration status prior to receiving TPS benefits and did not obtain any other status during the TPS period, he or she will maintain that Start Printed Page 52410unlawful status upon the termination of the TPS designation.

Former TPS beneficiaries will no longer be eligible for a stay of removal or an EAD pursuant to the TPS program. TPS-related EADs will expire on May 3, 2004, and will not be renewed.

Termination of the TPS designation for Sierra Leone does not necessarily affect pending applications for other forms of immigration relief or protection, though former TPS beneficiaries will begin to accrue unlawful presence as of May 3, 2004, if they have not been granted any other immigration status or protection or if they have no pending application for certain benefits.

Notice of Termination of Designation of Sierra Leone Under the TPS Program

By the authority vested in me as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under section 244(b)(3) of the Act, I have consulted with the appropriate agencies of government concerning conditions in Sierra Leone. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(3). Based on these consultations, I have determined that Sierra Leone no longer meets the conditions for designation of TPS under section 244(b)(1) of the Act. 8 U.S.C. 1254a(b)(1).

Accordingly, I order as follows:

(1) Pursuant to sections 244(b) of the Act, the TPS designation of Sierra Leone for TPS terminated effective May 3, 2004, six months from the end of the current extension.

(2) I estimate that there are approximately 2,700 nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who currently receive TPS benefits.

(3) To provide for an orderly transition, nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) who have been granted TPS under the Sierra Leone designation or redesignation will automatically retain temporary protected status until the termination date. However, an individual's TPS may still be withdrawn pursuant to section 244(c)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and 8 CFR 244.14 because of ineligibility for TPS, prior failure to timely re-register if there was not good cause for such failure, or failure to maintain continuous physical presence in the United States.

(4) TPS-related Employment Authorization Documents that expire on November 2, 2003, are extended automatically until May 3, 2004, for qualified nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone).

(5) Information concerning the termination of the TPS program for nationals of Sierra Leone (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Sierra Leone) will be available at local BCIS offices upon publication of this notice and through the BCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. This information will also be published on the BCIS Web site at http://www.bcis.gov.

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Dated: August 28, 2003.

Tom Ridge,

Secretary of Homeland Security.

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[FR Doc. 03-22488 Filed 8-29-03; 11:16 am]

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