Monrovia - In fifteen days or less, thousands of Liberians who have been living in the United States of America at the mercy of a temporary protection or deferred departure program could find themselves on a plane bound for their homeland with President Donald Trump appearing Unlikely to renew the service.
At the height of the civil war in 1991, the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) was approved for Liberia - and - again in 1999 as fighting lingered. In 2007, President George W. Bush ended the program but allowed recipients to apply for another deportation reprieve called deferred enforced departure, or DED, which has been extended roughly every 18 months since.
The program officially expires March 31, 2018.
Waquina Blay who runs an African-themed Fast Food restaurant in Minneapolis was quoted by CCX News as saying that not only her business, but the Diaspora community in the area would be affected when the March 31, deadline expires.
“Them having to go back home is devastating. You come here for a dream; you come here for a purpose, finding a better life.
This business itself is impacted. We have a lot of Liberians that live here and take care of their families. These are human beings; these are people that have communities depending on them.”
A Plea to President Trump
On Thursday, a broad coalition of diverse groups, mainly from Minnesota, returned from Washington, DC where they have been lobbying members of the U.S. Congress to urge President Donald Trump to renew the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) action for Liberians and create a pathway for citizenship.
The group called on President Trump to give a 3-year DED extension, which will keep families together and asked Congress to find a permanent solution for DED holders.
While on Capitol Hill, the group hosted a briefing for staffers and held meetings with congressional leaders about DED.
They met with Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MN), and Jack Reed (D-RI); Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Congressmen Erik Paulsen (D-MN), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Tim Walz (D-MN), and 20 other offices to advocate for DED renewal.
The coalition also met with Liberia's Ambassador to the US and asked for a letter from President Weah to buttress its advocacy efforts.
“The meetings were successful,” said Patrice Lawrence of the UndocuBlack Network, one of the coalition partners.
“But the DED fight remains a hard battle, and the issue continues to shift quickly; nevertheless, we are committed to fighting for our communities to the very end.”
The group says it is tracking six immigration bills that are going through Congress but has chosen to support only three that reflect their values of making family unity paramount, support DED and TPS, create a pathway to citizenship, and offer deportation relief.
The coalition believes the American Promise ACT, the SECURE Act, and the Liberian Refugee and Fairness Act (co-sponsor by Senator Reed and Representative Ellison) propose a solution to the detrimental impact of DED and TPS.
The United States must continue to do all that is necessary to assist in the re-emergence of Liberia, ensure regional stability, help foster Liberia’s continuing post-war recovery, and protect the country’s substantial foreign policy assistance, said Lawrence.
“With its recent presidential election, Liberia has only just completed its first democratic transfer of power in decades, and there are still serious concerns about the nation’s ability to maintain peace and deliver essential services to its population.”
“A flood of Liberians from the U.S. could overburden the country’s limited infrastructure and reverse the advances the nation has made. It would also stem the critical socio-economic investment and assistance that Liberians in America provide through remittances to their relatives in Liberia.
As such, we believe it is beneficial for both nations if this population is permitted to remain in the U.S. for at least three additional years.”
Path to Citizenship on Table, but …
While US lawmakers are making some last-minute lobbying for legislation that would open a path to citizenship, many Liberians are getting edgy.
Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minnesota, 3rd District, one of two sponsors of the Bi-Partisan Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2018, which enables Liberians who have been living in the US temporarily to apply for permanent residency, told his colleagues during a recent address on the floor of the House of Representatives that Liberians have become important members of the American society.
Rep. Paulsen, whose district includes West African enclaves in the north metro in the state of Minnesota, said:
“I rise to share my support as the co-sponsor of the Liberian Refugee Immigration and Fairness Act which gives Liberians a Deferred Enforced Departure to Permanent Status.
Thousands of Liberians came to the United States to escape a civil war seeking a better life and a safer environment to raise their families.
For the last twenty-five years, many have sought and realized the American dream through hard work, through drive and determination.
They’ve become small business owners and leaders in our community. Minnesota is home to one of the largest Liberian communities in the United States many of them live in the Western suburbs of the Twin Cities.
"Mr. Speaker I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know members of the Liberian community personally."
"I’ve heard their stories and have seen their love for America first hand.
However, they’re facing uncertainty today because their temporary period of protection is just about to expire so it is imperative that action be taken so that they would be able to live here and work here and continue to offer their contribution as important members of our community.”
Supporters of the legislation say, ending the protective status program would upend the lives of long-time residents with U.S. citizen children and tough-to-fill health care jobs.
The legislation is being rejected by critics who are advocating that that protective service be limited only to people who entered the US legally and block recipients from permanent status.
The deadline fears come as many Liberian community in the US are experiencing increased number of random searches and demand for identification by US Homeland Security agents.
Community leaders like Abdullah Kiatamba, Minnesota Executive Director of the African Immigrant Services (AIS) and National Co-Chair of ULAA Immigration Committee, say they will continue to fight for a deal right up to the March 31st deadline but are worried about reports of intimidation amid reports that Liberians and other Africans are being asked to show identification randomly by ICE agents.
“Our immigrant communities, including Liberians everywhere in the US, are worried, outraged and traumatized with many of ICE’s actions, especially random searches and raids."
"Why ICE may provide legal cover to these actions, there are evidently countless instances where these actions have crossed and blurred legal lines and violated basic human rights and dignity.”
Random Searches: ICE Clamping Down
The fears come amid reports this week that two people were killed in a car crash in Bakersfield, Calif., Wednesday while fleeing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that were trying to pull them over.
Local news station KRON 4 News reported that the two people, Santo Hilario Garcia, 35, and Marcelina Garcia Profecto, 33, were declared dead on the scene after losing control of the car and crashing into a power line pole.
According to the report, the pair initially pulled over for the agents, but then attempted to escape by driving off once the ICE agents exited their vehicle.
ICE has been cracking down on illegal immigrants in the United States under the Trump administration.
Nevertheless Mr. Kiatamba says the non-profit organization which works around community organizing, leadership development, policy and systems change, and advocacy campaigns, is pleased with the strategies recently employed to engage the real power brokers at the US Congress on Capitol Hill.
“It has been a collective work of so many actors, advocates, and community organizers. It has comprised many organizations, including many community-based organizations and allies across the United States.”
As the deadline nears, the Trump administration appears to be keeping many guessing about how his administration will finalize the matter but judging on how the administration has decided in recent months, chances appear slim for Liberians.
Last May, the Trump administration granted a six-month extension to 60,000 Haitians given TPS after the 2010 earthquake.
But, later announced that it would end TPS for Haiti.
Hopeful for 11th Hour Reprieve
The Department of Homeland Security has put off a decision on TPS for Honduras, granted after Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998.
It ended TPS for 2,500 Nicaraguans and gave them until 2019 to explore other options to stay or prepare to leave.
For Congressman Paulsen the fight for Liberia is not dead.
“The lives and wellbeing of the Liberians living in our own community are at stake, and this is too important to let politics get in the way.“
“I’m grateful to the representatives of our Liberian community for coming to Washington to make their case directly to my fellow lawmakers and I will continue working across the aisle in urging the Administration to take action.”
Mr. Kiatamba agrees and is still hopeful that the Trump administration will do what is right for the sake of humanity.
“I believe President Donald Trump will renew the Deferred Enforced Departures (DED) for Liberians, even in the eleventh hour.”
“We have made a compelling case, we have lobbied intensively at the US Congress, and we have seen how the inspiring personal stories shared by many Liberians on DED have deeply touched by many powerful elected leaders across the United States.”