The Uncertain Future of Liberian Refugees in the U.S.

By: Jessica McDermott

Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) may be coming to an end for thousands of Liberian Americans at the end of this month. DED is an administrative stay of removal (i.e. stay of deportation) the president is free to grant to specific foreign nationals. Last year, President Trump declared that his administration would not renew DED, which means the protective program will end on March 31, 2019.

With the ending of DED, thousands of Liberian immigrants living in the U.S. face deportation unless Congress votes to protect them or Trump changes his mind about extending the program. These Liberian immigrants were first granted safety in the U.S. around 2007 after the second Liberian Civil War ended, though many had immigrated during the 1990s and early 2000s at the peak of the conflict. Around 250,000 people were killed during Liberia’s Civil Wars that lasted from 1989 to 2003, and thousands fled the conflict. Although the exact number of Liberians protected under the DED program is unclear, when it was extended to Liberians in 2007, 4,200 Liberians were eligible.

Other foreign nationals have been protected under the DED program in the past, though currently the DED only protects Liberian immigrants. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, DED has always been at the mercy of the “president’s discretion to authorize as part of his power to conduct foreign relations.” The government website goes on to state that DED is “not a specific immigration status.” Many immigrants who enter the U.S. under DED also apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows eligible immigrants to remain in the U.S. for a renewable 12-18-month period. Along with ending DED, the Trump administration has also phased out TPS for multiple countries over the last few months.

African nations have been continually ravaged by political and econoimc imperialism in order to benefit the U.S. market and its citizens. From the mineral-ore in U.S. cell-phones and computers to the rubber tires on American cars, the U.S. and Europe remain economically dependent on Africa. This point is often lost on U.S. and European politicians who continually harass and vilify African nations and immigrants. This extraction and its consequences for African citizens is dismissed or outright ignored when poverty and displacement in Africa are discussed. In fact, the blame is often placed on Africans themselves. Earlier last year, in a racist rant, Trump was quoted as calling countries in Africa and Haiti “shit-holes.” The president also asked why the US couldn’t kick out Haitian immigrants and instead bring in people from countries like Norway. With such discussions leading the conversation on immigration in the U.S. (not to mention the locking up and separating of immigrant children from their families), it is not a surprise that Liberian immigrants and immigrant advocates are leading the cause to extend DED.

The largest concentration of Liberian immigrants in the U.S. live in Minnesota, and Liberian Minnesotans have led the struggle to extend DED.  Abena Abraham, a Liberian immigrant who has lived in Minnesota since she was four-years-old, recently obtained a green card and has made it her mission to fight for her community. She traveled to Washington DC in November 2017 to discuss proposed bills with Congress that would protect Liberians and other TPS holders. She believes that previous efforts to protect Liberians have failed because they did not include TPS holders from other countries. If DED ends, other Liberian immigrants like Magdalene Menyongar, who fled the Liberian Civil War 25-years ago and has “had permission” to live in Minnesota for years, face the choice of leaving their children who have U.S. citizenship behind or losing their work status and becoming undocumented. In an interview with The Washington Post, Menyongar said, “It’s hard to think about because you have built a life.”

Menyongar joined around 100 others at the Minnesota State Capitol last month to rally and call for security. Now, the fate of these Liberian-Americans lies in the hands of the U.S. political establishment, though three congressional Democrats and US Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island have “reintroduced a bill” to offer Liberians with DED a chance to apply for permanent residency.

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