(AP) The House has approved legislation that would stave off the deportation of Liberians for at least a year, extending their temporary protected status until Sept. 30, 2008. Without passage of the legislation, their refugee status will expire on Oct. 1 of this year.
The House passed the bill by voice vote Monday night. A spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., LeRoy Coleman, said the senator was hopeful the Senate would pass similar legislation this week.
Because of civil war back home, Liberians have been living in this country for nearly two decades. But following elections in 2005 and modest signs of stabilization in Liberia, the Department of Homeland Security is lifting the temporary protected status, subjecting them to deportation.
About 3,600 Liberians are living in the U.S. under temporary protected status, federal officials have said, although activists claim there are thousands more. Liberians are concentrated in the Twin Cities, Philadelphia and Providence, R.I.
"This bill is about fundamental fairness," said the House sponsor, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I. "This bill is about keeping hardworking families together." Supporters of the legislation, including Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., called the bill a short-term fix while they seek legislation that would allow Liberians to apply for permanent residency.
"Liberian-American families who have made Minnesota their home for the past 16 years should not be forced to abandon their communities and families and return to a fledgling democracy that is not economically capable of absorbing them at this time," Ellison said.
Charles Dennis, a radio show host and Liberian activist, called the bill's passage a big victory.
"The way things are going with immigration and post-9/11, you have to take what you can get," he said. "If it comes in chunks, that's wonderful. Just to buy some time to show we are not illegal immigrants but part and parcel of the U.S. historically. We do deserve better treatment than someone who just came across the border."
Freed slaves from the U.S. founded Liberia in the 19th century.
Although permanent residency is the ultimate goal, a one-year extension would be a relief to Liberians living in the U.S., Dennis said.