Thousands of Liberians with soon-to-expire Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status wait in anxiety and fear as attorneys mount legal challenges against the Trump administration as they introduce legislation that will hopefully provide a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.
Should these efforts fail, generations of Liberian expatriates who have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the U.S. for more than a quarter century face imminent deportation at the end of March — a thought that has brought one elderly Liberian woman to tears.
“There is nothing in Liberia for me, even though there are people I know,” said the woman, speaking under terms that her name be withheld.
Since her arrival in the U.S. in 1992 under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), she has consistently reported to the immigration office in her city. During her most recent visit last week, she filled out paperwork confirming her eligibility as a recipient of DED and paid a hefty processing fee.
This routine, done months and years at a time, persisted at President Bill Clinton’s discretion via TPS, and after President George W. Bush gave her and other civil war refugees DED in 2007 as the protection afforded them under TPS was scheduled to expire.
The Liberian elder, now in her early 60s, recalls receiving letters from her job’s human resources department shortly after President Donald Trump ordered an end to DED protections for Liberians last year. She also remembers an immigration official’s rebuff when she inquired about a new form that she’d have to complete.
Given her description of the current climate, fused with Trump’s strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, she has found just cause in refuting his claim that Liberia has made “significant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance.”
“There’s no electricity and running water but that’s where they want to send people,” she said — one voice among thousands of Liberians who escaped certain death during Operation Octopus, a violent campaign led by rebel forces at the height of the Liberian Civil War.
“Something needs to be done. We pay our taxes but can’t even stay here to enjoy our retirement,” she continued. “We’re praying for the renewal of our papers and a pathway to citizenship so that we can live a normal life.”
A lawsuit filed in a Massachusetts federal court against the Trump administration and Department of Homeland Security alleges that Trump’s rationale for letting DED protections lapse lacks merit. Lawyers representing Liberians affected by the policy point to Trump’s disparaging comments about immigrants. Within the last year, leaders of Liberian enclaves in Maryland, Minnesota and other parts of the U.S. have visited Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress to secure a solution to their plight.
On March 1, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Donald M. Payne (D-NJ, Dist.10) led more than 40 of their colleagues in asking Trump to extend DED protections. Earlier this year, Reed and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI, Dist. 1), introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act which, if approved, would give Liberians under DED permanent residency with a path toward citizenship.
Liberian leaders have extended outreach efforts back home including the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas who sent a letter to Liberian President George Weah briefing him on the events and asking him to publicly acknowledge Liberia’s inability to receive the refugees.
Inflation has further intensified the damage of an economy that never recovered from the first Liberian Civil War. The 2019 Index of Economic Freedom says that while corruption and lack of transparency in the judicial system hinders development in the private sector, remittances — money immigrants wire to their birth country — can sustain economic revitalization. However, DED’s pending expiration threatens that possibility.
“You have people who’ve been in the U.S. for 20 years and have obtained degrees in higher education,” said Emmett Acquoi, a board member of the Liberian Community Association of the Washington Metropolitan Area. “They’ve gotten used to a certain lifestyle and their children have grown up here. If they’re sent to Liberia, they wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves. Liberians are resorting to violence because there are no jobs and corruption is on the rise. We might not be in the midst of civil war but there’s still a threat.”