On March 30, thousands of Liberian Americans across Minnesota and the United States could live their last day as legal residents. Unless they want to face the risk of deportation, those who are not yet citizens will have to pull the plug on their jobs, businesses, and families to return to a country whose lengthy civil wars forced them to flee almost two decades ago.
Why? The next day, March 31, their Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) designation — a temporary immigration program that the president can use for foreign affairs — expires. They will no longer be legal residents of our country and will have to carry on their lives back in Liberia, or try to piece together a semblance of normality as undocumented immigrants in America.
According to ThinkProgress, even though some DED recipients have been here for two decades as integral members of our community, the program has not provided an automatic pathway to citizenship.
Since arriving here, Liberian-Americans have been an important part of our community. They’ve helped make northern suburbs like Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center thriving, diverse communities. Many small businesses have been started, providing the community with services and goods.
Quite funnily, a local Liberian said it better, "Anywhere you go in these cites, you’ll hear people speaking Liberian English," said Abdullah Kiatamba, a local nonprofit director, to a MinnPost reporter. "We have changed the face of the city. We have created businesses. We are everywhere, I swear to God."
They’ve also been a mainstay of our local health care system. Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that "more than 1,000 of the union's 35,000 members are Liberian, and that there were at least several thousand Liberians who worked in health care locally."
There is a sound argument against removing the DED recipients and uprooting thousands of people, but the single most important issue about the expiring status is that it will tear apart families. Many Liberians who moved here and are on DED status, have kids who are American citizens, and have probably never experienced what its like to live in Liberia. To abruptly leave America would put children and families in a tailspin of confusion. Deporting DED families could effectively result in the loss of American citizens.
Former President Barack Obama extended the program for 18 months in 2016, but the future of the program is not looking good as it nears expiration again. President Donald Trump has already ended temporary status for Haiti and El Salvador, leaving Liberia on the chopping block.
Even the way Trump has talked about Africa signals that DED Liberians may be leaving our country soon. In a shockingly clear look into the president’s depraved mind earlier this year, the New York Times reported that while negotiating with congressmen over a potential immigration deal, the president demanded to know “why he should accept immigrants from ‘shithole countries.’” This was a year after he said that Nigerians would “never go back to their ‘huts’” in another White House meeting leaked to the media.
It is a travesty that the lives of so many people are subject to the cruel whims of our prejudiced president. Congress should act so that DED recipients can have an automatic path to citizenship. The current pattern of renewing DED status’ every 18 months gives the lives of thousands of people too much uncertainty. An automatic path to citizenship included in DED would be much better than the overly political process we have now. Liberians have made Minnesota home, so let’s not let Trump evict them.