White House gives Liberians one-year reprieve from deportation

Supporters rally for extension of DED for Liberians.
Supporters of the program that gives thousands of Liberians legal status in the U.S. attend a rally to call for the extension the program at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, Monday March 26, 2018.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Updated: 4:30 p.m. | Posted: 3:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump has extended immigration protections for Liberians living in the United States, but only for a year.

A memorandum issued Tuesday by the White House says the Deferred Enforced Departure program, known as DED, which has been in place since 2007, will end next March.

"Liberia is no longer experiencing armed conflict and has made significant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance. Liberia has also concluded reconstruction from prior conflicts, which has contributed significantly to an environment that is able to handle adequately the return of its nationals," Trump wrote in a memo. "The 2014 outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease caused a tragic loss of life and economic damage to the country, but Liberia has made tremendous progress in its ability to diagnose and contain future outbreaks of the disease."

Trump writes that he finds conditions in Liberia "no longer warrant a further extension of DED," but says in the interest of an orderly "wind down" of the program and to allow Liberians to make arrangements to leave, he's extending the program through March of 2019.

Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents the state's 3rd District and many of the cities with high numbers of Liberians in Minnesota, called the move a reprieve and said it gives Congress an additional year to come up with a more permanent solution.

"It gives us more time to raise awareness and educate others about what our Liberian community means to Minnesota," Paulsen said in a statement.

Abdullah Kiatamba, a Liberian immigrant and executive director of African immigrant Services based in Brooklyn Park, also welcomed Trump's decision to offer the program a one-year wind down.

"I think it is good news. It is a good place to be. It is not the best place to be, but it is a start," Kiatamba said, adding it gives Minnesota's large Liberian community another year to make their case for many to stay.

Pastor Moses Punni of Coon Rapids, a beneficiary of the program since 2001 and a father of four U.S. citizens, called on Congress to intervene on behalf of Liberians.

"I believe in God that before this year ends that we will have a permanent solution to this partially fixed crisis that is hanging over the beneficiaries of Liberian DED," Punni said.

The pastor said many Liberians in Minnesota have been living in uncertainty as the program's deadline loomed.

DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith expressed her disappointed in the decision to terminate DED, saying in a statement that she would press the administration to reverse the move.

"This decision will rip families apart. It goes against who we are as a nation. It means we'll lose employees, innovators, and community leaders that make Minnesota — and our country — a better place," Smith said.

Those sentiments were echoed by DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who in a statement said the decision to end the protection was the wrong move.

"These are hard-working people who came to the U.S. legally, have remained here legally, and play a major role in Minnesota's economy, in particular helping to staff our hospitals and nursing homes," Klobuchar said.

It isn't clear what impact Trump's decision will have on Liberians. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, speaking on background, said the decision will most immediately affect about 840 Liberians who have work permits under DED. They will be allowed a 6-month extension, subject to a one-time renewal.

But there are thousands more Liberians who will eventually be involved.

Homeland Security said there were about 3,600 enrolled in a previous Temporary Protected Status, or TPS program that preceded the DED.

The Liberians who are protected by DED but don't have work permits may be subject to deportation but won't be a "priority" for removal by immigration authorities, the DHS said.

The DED program itself will end for all Liberians on March 31, 2019.

MPR News reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim contributed to this report.

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