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The Trump Administration is on the brink of letting a little-known humanitarian program to help people whose home countries have been struck by war or natural disaster expire onMarch 31, 2018. Thousands of Liberian immigrants may face deportation if deferred enforced departure (DED) for Liberians — an immigration program authorized under the president’s constitutional discretion to conduct foreign affairs — is not renewed. DED allows recipients to obtain a work permit and travel out of the country if they have advanced permission, but provides no path to legal status or citizenship.
Federal immigration services does not know how many Liberians have DED, but 4,200 were eligible when DED for Liberia started in 2007. Originally, temporary protected status (TPS) was granted to Liberians already in the U.S. after two brutal civil wars killed 250,000 people from 1989 to 2003, and protected them from having to return to a war-torn nation. In 2007, President George W. Bush terminated TPS for Liberia, but allowed recipients to apply for DED, which since then has been extended roughly every 18 months. President Obama twice continued the DED program through March 31, 2018.
Liberia is currently the only country with DED status, though other countries have been protected in the past. Since DED is authorized by the president’s foreign policy powers (whereas TPS was created by the Immigration Act of 1990), only the Trump Administration has the power to extend DED. Continuous participation in the TPS and DED programs have made Liberian immigrants “among the most checked, vetted, secure populations of immigrants in this country,” said Bernstein Murray, Policy Director of the American Immigration Council.
Last week, a nurse and Liberian DED recipient, Caroline Grimes, spoke at a press conference in Washington advocating for her community in Minnesota, home to one of the largest concentration of Liberians in the country. Citing the worker shortage in the home health care industry — which Liberians are heavily represented in — as well as her contributions as a taxpaying nurse and mother of two U.S. citizen children, she called for a three-year DED extension, reported Esther Yu Hsi Lee with ThinkProgress.
African Communities Together (ACT) executive director Amaha Kassa believes it would be “un-humanitarian and destabilizing to return people to Liberia” because the country wouldn’t be able to absorb an influx of immigrants. The United Nations recently reported Liberia “faces significant economic constraints” and continues its slow recovery from the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis.
It is uncertain whether the Trump Administration will extend DED; Trump’s previous vulgar and disparaging comments about immigration from Africa and Haiti, and his blatant anti-immigrant racism about predominantly Black and brown immigrants, are concerning. The Department of Homeland Security under Trump has phased out TPS for Salvadorans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans in the last few months. Trump has the ability to renew or terminate the DED program on the very last day, unlike other immigration programs requiring 60-day pre-deadline announcements through DHS. If no decision is made by Trump, DED will automatically expire.
With the DED deadline quickly approaching, recipients — many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades — and their communities are bracing for an uncertain future. As Abena Abraham, 21, a Liberian immigrant from Minnesota, said:
Folks forget about our existence. And the thing about us is we’re immigrants and we’re also black. We may be picked up by the police in a routine traffic stop, and because of our complexities within our identities we’re . . . processed through ICE and we’re moved silently through the system. I think folks really fail to realize that.
ThinkProgress profiled Minnesota Pastor Moses Punni, who has a 15-year-old daughter as well as two Sierra Leonean foster sons. If DED is not extended past the end of this month, Pastor Moses will become undocumented, unable to work, and at risk of deportation and separation from his family.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has introduced multiple bills that would help Liberians in America, including the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, which opens a path to citizenship for longtime immigrants from Liberia. As he stated:
Pulling the rug out from underneath [TPS and DED recipients] by terminating their protection is wrong. It not only uproots the lives of our neighbors in Minnesota, but destabilizes countries trying to get back on their feet.
Yesterday, March 19, marked the re-registration deadline for TPS recipients from El Salvador to maintain status through September 5, 2018; concerns have arisen in recent weeks because fewer than two-thirds of eligible Salvadorans have applied for renewal.