Nearly 3,000 individuals have signed a petition to stop the deportation of Liberians living in the U.S. on Deferred Enforced Departure status.
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 Temporary Protective 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.
The new 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 that the status of Liberians covered by the DED should be extended to prevent deportation.
According to the background of the petition, many Liberians, including young citizens who fled the civil war in 1990 and were granted Temporary Protective Status have not returned to Liberia in 30 years because conditions in their country, including the infrastructure, were still not favorable to sustain them.
“After a 14-year civil war and Ebola, Liberia faces extreme poverty with a troubled healthcare system and very limited employment opportunities,” it said.
The petition is asking the U.S. Congress to pass H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 to ensure the extension of the status of Liberians. The bill, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, would allow over 2 million TPS holders and DED beneficiaries to adjust their status to permanent residents. It is co-sponsored by more than 200 members of the House of Representatives.
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.
Meanwhile, the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas has joined the call urging the American president to extend the immigration status of Liberians living in the U.S. on DED and work with Congress for more permanent status.
ALJA disclosed in a release on March 21 that the lives of many of the DED recipients are so deeply ingrained in American society that ending the immigration benefit would cause them severe emotional and economic hardship.
The association said Liberians on DED are assets to the U.S. economy, rather than liabilities.
“ALJA says the affected Liberians, many of whom have resided in the United States for more than 20 years, are very well integrated in their local communities, have established families, bought homes and are making significant contributions to different aspects of the American society,” the release noted.
It added that the current high unemployment in Liberia and the continuing challenge the country has with providing basic medical, social, and educational services to its citizens could be made even worse when thousands of Liberians are made to involuntarily return home if President Trump fails to extend DED.
“Thousands of Liberian DED beneficiaries face the stark choice of leaving the United States or becoming undocumented when the temporary immigration benefit expires on March 31,” it added.
The group said it also considers the possible deportation of the over 4,000 Liberians as inhumane and counterproductive to America’s values of protecting children and keeping families together.
Featured photo courtesy of Courtney Perry/MPR News