Some Liberians residing in the Diaspora are presently in Liberia to engage the government and other stakeholders on the citizenship issue arising in the Constitution review process. Their position is simple: not about dual citizenship, per se, but “retention of Liberian citizenship” for
Liberians who have naturalized abroad.
The group under the banner, “Liberia Advocacy for Change (LAFC),” is pleading that Liberians that are in foreign countries including the United States are not supporting dual citizenship to allow people of non-Negro descent to become citizens, but that citizenship of Liberians living in the Diaspora be retained.
LAFC Chairman and Executive Director Togba R. Croyee Porte said, “We are saying that Liberians that were naturally born here and went to another country and naturalized there for one reason or another, should be allowed to maintain their citizenship as enshrined in the Constitution.”
The LAFC’s position is based on Chapter IV Article 27 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which says, “All persons who, on the coming into force of this Constitution were lawfully citizens of Liberia shall continue to be Liberian citizens.”
Mr. Porte argued that under this clause, Liberian citizenship is maintained and not tampered with, but the Immigration Act of 1974 which calls for renouncing of citizenship of one country is tempering with this cardinal right, and Liberians of all walks of life should see reason to allow their brothers’ and sisters’ citizenship be retained.
“An act that did not go through referendum to get endorsement of majority of the people should not be above the organic law of this country,” he said, referring to the 1974 Act.
“The 1847 Constitution also guaranteed this right, but for Liberians in this country to take it away from their brothers and sisters today, we don’t think it is right,” Mr. Porte argued.
He added that an Act passed in 1974 should not be enforced to subordinate the power of the 1986 Constitution, which is the organic law, noting that the Constitution is the supreme law of Liberia.
He said the Immigration and Naturalization Law of Liberia embarrasses them when they decide to visit Liberia.
“The Immigration and Naturalization Law is not reading the intent of the Constitution. It is still going by an archaic law that does not recognize our citizens when they come [home]. When Liberians in the Diaspora come here, they are treated as foreigners and not as Liberians who were born here,” he said.
Togba R. Croyee Porte, son of the late Julius Porte of Crozierville, co-owns a funeral business in the State of New York and works with the New York City office of the chief medical examiner is former vice president and political action coordinator of the New York City Health Workers
Union. According to him, he has maintained his Liberian citizenship since he went to America since 1989.
He says, however, Liberians in foreign countries naturalized abroad for one reason or another, so that they can find means to survive, but did not intend to deny their citizenship in Liberia.
“When Liberians come in their own country and are discriminated by the law and people, making them to go to immigration after 30 days to regularize their status as if they were not born here; then, there is a problem,” he added.
One argument that has characterized the issue of dual citizenship in Liberia is the allegation by many Liberians at home that Liberians were ‘imported from the United States to work in government and they have stolen money and transferred to the U.S. to support their families’.
Liberians living in the country therefore fear that granting dual citizenship to Liberians and foreigners in the country will lead to taking the country’s resources to another country and leaving it undeveloped.
In response to this concern, Mr. Porte said Liberia is a signatory to all international conventions, and if any Liberian comes here and behaves disorderly or steals money as the case may be, the government can use extradition treaty to get the concerned people from whatever countries they are to Liberia for prosecution and subsequent punishment as may be required by law.
He said government is responsible to make and implement policy, and its failure should not be a condition to deny citizens of the country their right.
In addition to advocacy for retaining citizenship for Liberians in the Diaspora, Mr. Porte stressed that the Constitution is not gender sensitive.
He said unlike Liberian fathers whose children are allowed to declare citizenship to Liberia under the Immigration and Naturalization Law, children born to Liberian women by foreign fathers are not allowed, which he said needs to change.
In pursuing the change LAFC is advocating for, Mr. Porte said they are not coming to impose their will on Liberians here, but to sit, discuss and reason together on issues that can make the country better.
He dispelled that Liberians abroad were not contributing to the development of the country, recalling World Bank’s remittance record of 2015 revealing that Liberians abroad sent over US$600 million to Liberia every year through Western Union and MoneyGram.
He then wondered why people here will be rejecting those in the Diaspora from getting citizenship when these Diaspora Liberians are remitting money to them at all times from whatever countries they are.
Meanwhile, a retired nurse and founding LAFC member, Mrs. Elizabeth N. Garwo, said she has lived in the United States since 1974 on a permanent resident status.
She said she and her late husband, a medical doctor who won a government scholarship to study medicine in the U.S. in the early 1970s, refused to become U.S. citizens, since they had planned to return to Liberia after his education. According to her, upon their return during the 1980s, Dr. Garwo had difficulty finding work in Liberia during the Samuel K. Doe regime, so he and his wife returned to the U.S. to work and raise their children. Dr. Garwo died in 2000. As a retired nurse, Mrs. Garwo is also in Liberia to construct a clinic in Grand Kru, her county of birth.
She said those with the opportunity to travel are not going because they want to deny their citizenship, but to learn and seek other means to impact the lives of their relatives and families, including their country.