Liberians Facing Mass Deportation From U.S.

Eric Marrapodi and Chris Welch, CNN, February 9, 2009

Thousands of Liberians living in the United States face deportation March 31 when a federal immigration status created for humanitarian purposes expires.

In the 1990s, a bloody civil war raged through the West African nation, killing 250,000 people and displacing more than a million, according to a U.N. report. The United States extended “temporary protection status” to all Liberians who could get to America, and 14,000 of them took advantage of that humanitarian offer.

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For years, the temporary protection status for Liberians was extended as the situation there worsened under dictator Charles Taylor. But Taylor was ousted in 2003 and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected Liberia’s first female president in 2006. In 2007, citing the progress in Liberia, President George W. Bush signed an order of “delayed enforced departure” for Liberians who had been under temporary protection status, giving them 18 months to return to Liberia.

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The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services said approximately 3,600 Liberian nationals are facing delayed enforced departure, but Liberian community leaders think the number may be twice that because, they said, many Liberians went underground and did not reregister with immigration services, knowing the delayed enforced departure status meant leaving the country.

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“Many of these Liberians have become important parts of the communities where they live in the United States,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island. There is a large Liberian community in his home state.

“They have children who are citizens of the U.S.,” he noted. “How do you leave children behind who are eligible to stay? They’ve worked very hard, they’ve played by the rules, and they’ve paid their taxes. They’re here legally. I think that should be considered at least to let them stay.”

Reed has been one of the driving forces for extension of the temporary protection status in previous years and is pushing hard again this year for another extension. In addition, he wants a change in the rule that prohibits those on the temporary protection status classification from applying for citizenship.

“They should have the right to become American citizens,” he said. “They should be part of immigration reform. We shouldn’t pick and choose different immigrant groups.”

Critics say Liberians should go back to Liberia when their status runs out.

“It is time for people to go back and rebuild their country,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. {snip}

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