Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 17, 2019
Minnesota’s Liberian community is celebrating the passage of a long-awaited measure that gives permanent residency to those who have been living here for decades under temporary protections.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment that offered a path to American citizenship for Liberians currently under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status. The $768 billion spending package, which passed the House last week and President Donald Trump has said he will sign, would prevent the deportation of many Liberians that was set to take place after March 31.
Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Liberians in the country, with thousands having come to the northwest metro suburbs several decades ago. Many Liberians fleeing civil war in the 1990s were given temporary protected status to stay in the U.S. — with no path to citizenship — and became part of the DED program in 2007. They faced the prospect of deportation under administrations of both parties, with continual extensions.
Trump twice moved to end the program, saying Liberians could return to their homeland because conditions in the country had improved: It was no longer experiencing armed conflicts and had recovered from a 2014 outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. But as Liberians’ DED status was set to expire on March 31 this year, the administration approved a one-year reprieve.
The amendment that ends the uncertainty was based on a bill called the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith as co-sponsors. Minnesota’s senators also signed on to the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, which would have allowed qualified recipients of DED to apply for legal permanent residency. The amendment is expected to affect about 4,000 Liberians living in America.