Liberians facing threat of deportation say: We have nothing to go to

Evelyn Jarbah of Brooklyn Park, center, sings with the crowd at a rally.
Brooklyn Park resident Evelyn Jarbah, center with hand raised, sings with the crowd at a rally to call for the extension of DED on Monday.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Christina Wilson is living on borrowed time. She's a Liberian native who fled her country's civil war in September of 2000.

And for nearly two decades, the United States let her stay, most recently as part of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program.

DED was renewed in September of 2016 by President Barack Obama. But that official determination only runs through Saturday. If it expires, native Liberians like Wilson may face deportation and an uncertain future.

When Liberians first fled to this country, they got Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. That program, and the Deferred Enforced Departure initiative, are a humanitarian effort meant to help people whose home countries have been struck by war or natural disaster.

Christina Wilson, center, attends the rally at the capitol.
Christina Wilson, center, attends a rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Monday. The Deferred Enforced Departure program expires on March 31.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

"Everybody was looking for somewhere peaceful to live," said Wilson. "And when the Americans opened their arms to us, we decided to come this way."

She's now living in Crystal and working as a nursing assistant. She's earned a culinary arts degree in Minnesota and dreams of opening her own restaurant. But for now, Wilson is still supporting her children back in Liberia, and worried about what will happen if she gets deported.

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"Liberia is a place that I left long time. I don't know if I have a place there right now," Wilson said. "Homes were destroyed. I have nothing to go to, to be frank."

Flags of the U.S. and Liberia fly at the rally on the steps of the capitol.
Flags of the U.S. and Liberia flew at the rally on the capitol steps.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

That was a common theme Monday at the State Capitol, where hundreds of Liberians gathered to sing, cheer and call for President Trump to renew DED, as Presidents Obama and George W. Bush did before him.

Experts think most of the 4,000 Liberians facing potential deportation have homes and families in Minnesota, many with jobs in the state's health care industry. Minnesota is home to the largest Liberian population in the country, an estimated 30,000 people.

The Trump administration has already announced its intention to end two other high-profile immigration programs, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans and Haitians, as well as for people from Nicaragua and Sudan. Trump himself was reported to have made disparaging remarks about African immigration in January, although a spokesman later denied Trump had used a profanity to describe African countries.

That, along with critical remarks about immigration, support for a wall along the Mexican border, and Trump's praise for the peaceful transfer of power in Liberian elections last year have some concerned DED may soon end.

Organizer Fata Acquoi, right, sings with attendees at a rally.
Organizer Fata Acquoi sings with attendees at a rally to call for the extension of DED.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Abdullah Kiatamba, head of Brooklyn Park-based African Immigrant Services, noted that Trump has already extended protections for another group of African immigrants, those from South Sudan.

"Amidst this anti-immigrant climate, and all of that, we've seen some light at the end of the tunnel," Kiatamba said. "We've seen some light shine through these challenges. And some of it has happened recently."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services referred questions about the program to the White House, where officials did not respond to an inquiry about the program's future Monday.