Liberians Granted Reprieve from Deportation

By Sumana Ali

After significant political opposition, President Trump extended the Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians until March 30, 2020.

In 2018, the Trump administration announced the termination of Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, for Liberians who sought refuge in the United States because of civil wars, violent insurgent groups and the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Approximately 4,000 Liberians living in the U.S. will be facing deportation when the program expires again on March 30, 2020. The extension was also set forth with conditions that may disqualify many Liberian residents from protection. Conditions include individuals who might have left the US thinking they can no longer stay after the expiration. Individuals who were deported, excluded, or removed before the date of the memorandum will also be ineligible.

The history of Liberia is important when it comes to understanding why previous presidents and the current American president used their presidential discretion for Liberians through DED. Liberia was originally formed to relocate freed slaves because America didn’t want too many former slaves in the States and relocating them to a West African colony was seen as the best solution.

The president grants DED to specific countries through executive orders. Since 1991, former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama extended DED several times before leaving office.

Today Liberians who have been living in the United States through DED have American-born children and family. Many of these individuals are contributing members of American communities. Yatta Kianzolu, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate and childhood arrival DED holder, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on March 6 about her experience living from deadline to deadline.

Kianzolu and hundreds of DED holders like her live in fear of being deported. Programs like DED and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provide protection for individuals fleeing war and natural disasters. Younger DED and TPS holders are especially vulnerable because they have lived most of their lives in the U.S.

Michael, a 19-year-old college student in New York fled gang violence in his native country with his mother. He says they cannot go back, no matter what. “For me, this is home, going back wouldn’t feel like returning to home,” he said.

Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Senator Amy Klobuchar, along with attorney generals from several states, advocated for Liberians to get this extension. The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act offers the potential of permanent legal status to Liberians who have “been continuously present in the United States between November 20, 2014, through the date of status adjustment application” or who are “the spouse, child, or unmarried son or daughter of such an alien.”

Though DED holders have temporary protection until March 2020, this was the Trump administration’s latest attempt at ending refugee programs. Others, such as TPS and programs that provide a path to citizenship like Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), are also at risk of being terminated.

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