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Klobuchar joins Liberians in urging they be allowed to stay

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Magdalene Menyongar fights away tears during a press conference.
Magdalene Menyongar fights away tears during a press conference with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on March 16, 2018.
Riham Feshir | MPR News

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and a group of Liberian community members met Friday to voice an urgent plea to extend a program that has allowed Liberian immigrants to remain in the United States legally for more than two decades.

The Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program is set to expire March 31. It's been in place since George H.W. Bush's presidency and has been extended repeatedly since.

Minnesota is estimated to have the most Liberian immigrants in the country. Many of them have become citizens and thousands of others on DED have built lives here. Many work in health care or own businesses. Their children are U.S. citizens.

"And the thought that just like that, those people who are caring for your parents or grandparents are suddenly going to vanish and be deported is an outrage to all of us," Klobuchar said Friday at the African Development Center in Minneapolis. "And that is why we are really working on this issue in a positive, pragmatic way."

Klobuchar's office estimates there are 30,000 Liberians in Minnesota. Some of them would lose legal status if President Trump doesn't extend DED.      

The program started in 1991, when George H.W. Bush first issued Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Liberians due to the civil war in their home country. Since then, Republican and Democratic presidents have extended TPS for other events, like the Ebola outbreak. Most recently, in 2007, President George W. Bush changed the program to what's now called DED, which has required extensions ranging from 12 to 24 months.

This year isn't the first time the Liberian community has rallied to plead for a DED extension. Klobuchar said similar efforts were necessary in the past.

But now, because President Trump has decided to end TPS for other countries like Haiti and El Salvador, the community is experiencing a heightened level of anxiety.

Magdalene Menyongar, a nurse, moved to the United States under TPS status in 1994. She has a 16-year-old daughter whose father died in a car accident.

"It's heartbreaking that my community has to go through this. We came here during the Liberian war and even if I were to leave my daughter, her father passed away," she said, fighting tears. "How do you cope with that?"

Klobuchar has previously sponsored the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, which provides a path to citizenship for Liberians who qualify for DED and have been in the country for decades.

She's cautiously optimistic that the current administration will listen to requests to extend the DED program because Liberians are a unique group of immigrants with a unique status. She said she's making sure that White House and Homeland Security officials recognize that.

"No new people have arrived under this status," she said. "It's a finite number of people."