Ahead of next week’s expiration of the Deferred Enforced Departure status for over 4,000 Liberians, 11 members of the U.S. Congress have written President Donald Trump asking him to take an immediate action to prevent Liberians from being deported.
The congressional members include House majority leader Steny Hoyer who represents Maryland’s fifth district; New York’s 16th district representative and the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Eliot Engel; and California’s 37th congressional district representative, Karen Bass, who also chairs the subcommittee on Global Health, and Human Rights.
Others include Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin and Senators Chris Van Hollen both of Maryland; and Representatives Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Jamie Raskin, Anthony Brown, and David Trone of Maryland’s seventh, second, third, eighth, fourth and sixth congressional districts, respectively.
In their letter, the U.S. lawmakers asked Trump to extend DED status for Liberians before the end of March to enable them to continue to legally reside in the U.S. because of the instability caused by the prolonged civil war and the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease between 2014 and 2016 that killed an estimated nearly 5,000 of the over 10,000 persons who contracted the disease in Liberia.
“The outbreak devastated the country’s fragile health care system, infrastructure, and economy while exacerbating social tensions. As a result of these uniquely tragic developments, thousands of Liberians were forced from their homes. Many fled to neighboring countries, while some sought refuge in the United States,” the letter read.
They said given the dangers of deadly disease outbreak and violence in Liberia and its neighboring countries, it would be irresponsible to force Liberians affected by DED to return at this time. They also added that Liberians legally residing in the U.S. if sent back, could overburden the country’s limited infrastructure and reverse the advances that have been made.
“Liberians currently under DED protections contribute positively every day to their communities and our economy,” they added.
“We believe that it is in the strategic national security, foreign policy, and humanitarian interest of the United States for this population to remain here at this time.”
DED beneficiaries, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, are Liberians or stateless individuals who last resided in Liberia and have lived in the U.S. since 2002. Some held another immigration status called Temporarily Protected Status up to September 30, 2007, and were subsequently covered by DED. More than 4,000 individuals are covered under the program.
The program expired last year, but U.S. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum extending the status for one year to end on March 31. Since January, Liberians have embarked on campaigns for permanent resident status or a further extension of the program.
Minnesota’s third district representative, Dean Phillips, also sponsored the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, H.R. 1169, aimed at providing legal status and a pathway to citizenship for qualifying Liberian refugees. The bill is also co-sponsored by Rhode Island’s first district representative, David Cicilline, and Ilhan Omar, who represents Minnesota’s fifth district.
Earlier in January, Phillips unsuccessfully pushed for protection for Liberian DED holders to be included in any conference committee resolution for Congress to reopen the U.S. government.
At the same time, more than 18,000 individuals have signed a petition started last week to stop the deportation of Liberians on DED in U.S. The petition, started by a Liberian lawyer in the American state of Maryland, Wala Blegay, is soliciting the signatures of 3,000 individuals to send a message to the U.S. Congress and the president asking that the status of Liberians covered by DED be extended to prevent deportation.
Featured photo by Eric B. Walker