-Trump yet to decide
By John F. Lloyd
The immigration status of thousands of Liberians in the United States will go in jeopardy at midnight on March 31, 2018, unless action is taken by President Donald Trump to issue the Executive Order of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to extend their legal stay in the U.S.
Every U.S. President since the outbreak of the Liberian civil war have taken similar action to grant immigration protection to Liberian immigrants in the wake of the long period of intermittent civil and political crisis in Liberia.
The uncertainty brought by this looming crisis has engendered fear in many quarters at home and abroad triggering a massive lobbying effort by Liberian Diaspora leaders in the U.S with the help of friendly organizations.
Upon the expiration of the current DED designation on March 31st, thousands of Liberians would lose their work authorization and become vulnerable to deportation the following day.
The repercussions of such a massive action would evoke another crisis of untold proportions even as the Liberian nation struggles to regain its footing from years of political unrest and severe economic hardship.
Fourteen (14) years since the cessation of hostilities in Liberia, the nation is yet to recover from severe economic challenges including massive unemployment, lack of basic housing, food insecurity, and insufficient access to public health highlighted by the 2014 Ebola pandemic. .
The current campaign for reprieve which reached a fever pitch this March is an effort to grant yet another lifeline in a long saga of 12 to 18 month long extensions of temporary status occurring repeatedly since 1991.
The March campaign is part a two-step strategic effort led by various Liberian diaspora groups. It began with a three day campaign on March 12-15 in Washington DC led by a consolidated delegation of Liberians from Minnesota, along with the Liberian Community in Washington in concert with the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and the Coalition of Concerned Liberians (CCL).
They were joined by a network of immigrant groups in Washington under the aegis of African Communities Together (ACT) in a bid to lobby members of the U.S. Congress to add their voices to the cause of Liberian immigration protection.
The legislative effort to protect Liberians in Washington is led by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island – a longstanding supporter of Liberian immigration who has championed several legislations on the floor of the U.S. Congress to protect Liberian immigrants including one currently in process to adjust the status of Liberians on DED and those formerly on TPS to permanent residency.
In the 11th hour of uncertainty, leaders, of the movement have remained hopeful with growing support from many quarters. On Thursday, a release from the Church World Service confirmed that 119 faith-based organizations, and 509 faith leaders sent a letter to President Trump on Thursday, March 22, urging him to extend DED for nearly 4,000 Liberians for a minimum of 18 months. Thousands of Letters and calls have also poured in to the halls of Congress and the White House in support of Liberians.
In the wake of the Washington lobby, Liberian diaspora leaders paid a courtesy call on the Liberian Ambassador to Washington H.E. Lois Brutus, during which talks were held regarding the role of the Liberian government in the unfolding moments of a potential crisis.
DED is traditionally granted by the President of the U.S. as a diplomatic courtesy in respect to longstanding relations between the two nations while recognizing the potential of adverse consequences upon a friendly nation by any action to deport thousands of its nationals. This premise set the basis for the first issue of the Executive Order of DED in 1999 by President Willian Jefferson “Bill” Clinton.
Proactive Measures Taken
While maintaining hope for reprieve, leaders of the movement have already launched proactive measures to provide essential legal guidance to those who may be affected in the event of non-extension.
In step two of their strategic effort, a National Conference on Immigration was held over the weekend in the suburbs of Washington DC. The event was sponsored by the Liberian Community Association (LCA) of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area in collaboration with ULAA.
The event brought together a host of Liberian immigration lawyers along with legal experts from ACT to render legal advice to Liberian nationals affected by DED. Major presenters at the Conference include Cllrs. Edward W. Neufville III, Christy Williams, and Stephen B. Freeman, along with Hiwot Berihun of ACT.
Key topics discussed included “Knowing Your Rights”; “Current State of Play on DED & Advocacy for Extension”; “What Are Your Immigration Legal Options”; and “How to Prepare for Family and Property for Possible Termination of Status”.
A similar exercise was conducted last May by another team of Liberian lawyers lead by Cllrs. Patricia Minikon, and Wala Blegay, along with Amaha Kassa of ACT.
History of DED/TPS
At the onset of the Liberia civil war in 1989, concerns arose over the safety of Liberian citizens in the United States with expired immigration statuses without a stable home to return to.
Protection was offered under the provisions the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or relief from removal under circumstances of war, disaster, or other devastating phenomena.
Under U.S. laws, an estimated fifteen thousand Liberians were granted TPS in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, and consequently granted registration documents and employment authorization for a specific duration.
Liberians have since enjoyed relief from removal for the longest period of those who have had TPS or other forms of blanket relief from deportation. Since the first designation of TPS in March 1991 at the onset of the Liberian civil war, thousands of Liberians have remained under some form of temporary immigration protection lasting throughout the period of war and intermittent instability in their homeland.
In 1999, shortly after the initial end of the civil war, the status of approximately 10,000 Liberians was first converted from TPS by President Bill Clinton by an Executive Order of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
The order was granted after strategic discussions between Liberian diaspora leaders in Washington along with the Congressional Black Caucus and members of the U.S. House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.
As a result of the discussions, President Clinton was urged to take action in the interest of Liberians as a means of diplomatic courtesy. DED was hence granted as a diplomatic courtesy to Liberia recognizing the long standing and historical ties between the two nations, and in recognition of the potential of adverse consequences upon a friendly nation by any action to deport thousands of its nationals in the aftermath of crisis.
This order took effect after the expiration of TPS on September 28, 1999. By law, TPS could no longer be extended through the U.S. Justice Department due to relative stability in Liberia brought by elections and the ongoing peace process. Liberian DED was extended through April 2001, and subsequently extended to September 29, 2002.
On October 1, 2002, upon another outbreak of war, Liberia was re-designated for TPS for a period of 12 months. The designation was subsequently renewed continuously throughout the interim period leading to the elections, and subsequent inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006.
On September 20, 2006, however, the George W. Bush Administration announced that Liberian TPS would again expire on October 1, 2007. Through lobbying and diplomatic interventions, DED was again granted by Executive Order through March 31, 2009.
On March 23, 2009, upon assuming office, President Obama easily extended DED for Liberians until March 31, 2010, and continued in similar gesture throughout his administration. On March 18, 2010, President Obama extended DED for Liberians through September 30, 2011.
Previously, only the statuses of those under Liberian DED protection had been extended through September 30, 2014. But with the Ebola outbreak, an additional set of Liberians along with other nationals from Sierra Leone, and Guinea were separately granted TPS through May 20, 2015.
This designation was further renewed in April 2016 under Obama. Before leaving office, Obama again extended the Ebola TPS through April 2017, and separately, another extension of DED was granted through the current period ending March 31, 2018.
On September 22, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a reminder that designations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone would terminate effective May 21, 2017.
As uncertainty remains regarding the extension of the current March 31st deadline, the specter of a looming crisis cannot be denied. The mass deportation of thousands of Liberians from the U.S. would set a negative precedence triggering similar actions from neighboring countries.
In the current climate of severe economic hardship in Liberia, the nation cannot afford the loss of hundreds of millions in remittances from Liberians abroad who now stand to lose their work permits. Given the prevailing conditions in Liberia with soaring unemployment, lack of basic housing, food insecurity, and insufficient access to public health, a modicum of crisis could spell a return to instability.
The consequences of such an advent could render futile decades of U.S. and international effort geared towards peace and reconstruction, and diminish hundreds of millions in foreign aid directed towards political and economic reconstruction.
Hence, an extension of the status of Liberians in the U.S. will serve a useful purpose in a bid to allow the Liberian nation to regain its footing from years of political unrest and severe economic hardship. This reality of adverse consequences should be recognized in the course of the longstanding historical ties between Liberia and the United States.
About the Author:
John F. Lloyd is a former leader of both the Liberian Community in Washington DC, and ULAA. In the years of the Liberian civil war, he served as a leading voice for Liberian Immigration protection at the U.S. Congress, and also a recognized spokeman for the peace process in 2003 -2005. Prior to the civil war he served as a reporter of the Daily Observer.