Washington: President Trump is extending for one year, DED, a program that gives Liberians protected status from deportation. The president’s action affects some 4,000 Liberians living in the U.S.
The policy change, announced in a presidential memorandum Thursday, temporarily reverses one of the administration’s hard-line immigration stances. Last year Trump said that conditions in post-civil war Liberia had improved and that he would end a program called Deferred Enforced Departure with a “wind-down” period expiring March 31, 2019.
But now, he said, “upon further reflection and review,” he has decided “it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States” to give Liberians another year, or until March 30, 2020, to stay in the United States. He added that the overall situation in West Africa “remains concerning.”
“The reintegration of DED beneficiaries into Liberian civil and political life will be a complex task, and an unsuccessful transition could strain United States-Liberian relations and undermine Liberia’s post-civil war strides toward democracy and political stability,” he said.
Liberian leaders in the U.S. and immigrant advocates praised the announcement and called on Congress for a permanent resolution.
“The Trump administration’s decision to extend DED protections for Liberians is the right thing to do,” said Avideh Moussavian, legislative director of the National Immigration Law Center in a statement.
“Twelve additional months of DED protections is welcome relief for thousands of families who were days away from losing deportation protections and the ability to continue fully contributing to their communities,” he said. “However, temporary relief is not enough. Congress must act urgently on a permanent solution for people with DED and other immigrant communities whose futures the Trump administration has thrown into limbo.”
Legal advocates for the Liberians had filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the administration’s plan to terminate DED arguing that with a weak economy and the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic conditions “remain dire.” The lawsuit alleges that the end of DED amounted to racial and national origin discrimination.
“This is a major win for families and communities impacted by the administration’s discriminatory decision to terminate a humanitarian relief program that provided a safe haven for thousands of Liberian immigrants who have been peacefully contributing to their communities and our economy for decades,” Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. It is one of the groups that filed the lawsuit.
The president’s memo acknowledges there are efforts to push Congress to provide Liberians with permanent relief from eventual deportation. “Extending the wind-down period will preserve the status quo while the Congress considers remedial legislation,” the president wrote.
A similar program, Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, covers nationals from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador and had been scheduled to expire this year. Earlier this month, the administration extended TPS for those groups through Jan. 2, 2020.
‘We’re still in fight for permanent solution’
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison led a coalition of state lawyers in filing a brief on Monday supporting DED recipients.
“Liberians are people who have been here since the war, they have grown up here, grown old here, had children here. To rip them apart [from their families] is not only immoral, but also illegal,” Ellison told reporters.
After the announcement, Ellison tweeted that Trump’s decision was good news, but “only comprehensive immigration reform will fix this for folks long-term”.
Ellison blamed Congress for the looming deportation order by failing to pass comprehensive immigration reforms.
“In reality a lot of these folks in a functioning Congress would be citizens right now or on a path to citizenship,” he told reporters. “Now we have to fight in the courts.”
Hannah Graf Evans, a legislative representative for immigration and refugee policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation, agreed, saying the problem with DED was that it locked Liberians under its protection from getting other visa statuses or citizenship, she said.
“If they have this (DED) they cannot have pathway to other statuses,” she told reporters.
“Therefore it’s up to Congress to address this through legislation,” she said, adding that her organisation has been advocating to Congress to help those on DED status.
Earlier this month, the House Democrats introduced the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that if passed, could help those receiving temporary protections in the US, including DED holders, and give them an avenue for permanent legal status.
‘Structured plan to remove folks from US’
Patrice Lawrence, national policy and advocacy coordinator at UndocuBlack Network, which jointly filed the lawsuit to block the deportation, along with African Communities Together (ACT) and 15 DED holders, told reporters that she saw the Trump administration’s approach to DED and immigration as a whole as part of a “very calculated plan” rooted in racism.
Since coming to office, Trump has cut refugee quotas, banned visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy at the US southern border and ordered an end TPS for individuals from several countries. That order for TPS holders form Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador was blocked in the courts last year.
“I see this as a very structured plan to remove folks from this country in terms of the motive on every level,” she said.
“It cannot be economic based on the way we show up,” she added. “It cannot be because folks don’t assimilate. We have folks who are members of Congress who are immigrants themselves … so the only thing we can touch on then is that it must be racism and the president’s own words have been a testament to that,” she added.
Knuckles Bull said that prior to Thursday’s announcement many in her community were “petrified” at the thought of having to leave or stay in the US undocumented.
For her part, Knuckles Bull hopes to stay in the US long enough to save enough money to go back to Liberia to take care of her 94-year-old mother, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
She said she was out of work for many months over the last year due to the amount of time it took her to get her work authorisation papers. She hopes now with the extension, she can make enough money to leave the US in the coming months to go back and take care of her mother and other elderly relatives in Liberia.
“I have done what I needed to do here,” she said. “I have contributed to raising my grandchildren who are doing very well. And it’s America that’s going to benefit from them.”