WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to preserve the status of Liberians living legally in the United States, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) led a letter signed by fifteen of his colleagues to President Obama urging an extension and expansion of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). As many as a few thousand Liberians could be deported if their temporary status is not extended beyond the March 31, 2013 deadline.
Senators joining Reed in sending the letter include: Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
“Liberians have worked hard, played by the rules, paid U.S. taxes, and made positive contributions to our communities. They legally came to America to escape a brutal civil war and seek a better life for their children, many of whom are American citizens. They are here legally and should be given the chance to stay,” said Reed. “The forced repatriation of Liberians from the United States would increase security tensions in Liberia and threaten the country’s post-war recovery efforts. This extension will prevent these families from being torn apart while Congress pursues a permanent solution.”
Since 1991, these Liberians have relied on short-term provisions of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or DED from the White House to extend their legal right to remain in the United States. These individuals, many of whom have been in the United States since fleeing Liberia in the late 1980's and early 1990's, have retained a legal status which allows them to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States.
The group of Senators also urged President Obama to include permanent resident status for qualifying Liberians in comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama recently pledged to make immigration reform a top priority during his second term.
“In the short term, we need to lift the March deadline and extend DED. In the long term, we need to fix our immigration laws and extend permanent residency to Liberians who have been living here and playing by the rules,” concluded Reed, who authored the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act to grant permanent residency to qualifying Liberians living legally in the United States.
On August 16, 2011, President Obama granted Liberians in the United States an 18-month extension of their legal immigration status, which is set to expire at the end of March 2013.
Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):
Dear Mr. President:
We write to urge you to extend and expand Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians residing legally in the United States. Moreover, to avoid the anxiety and uncertainty in our country’s Liberian communities, we also ask that you take swift and early action on this matter and extend DED for an additional two years.
As you know, in December 1989, Liberia was engulfed in a devastating seven-year civil war. Over 150,000 people died and more than half the population fled the country or became internally displaced. During the conflict, food production was halted, and the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. A second civil war that began in 1999 ended four years later with the departure from power of former President Charles Taylor, who was recently convicted of war crimes in The Hague.
Thousands of Liberians who were forced from their homes sought refuge in the United States. In 1991, Attorney General Barr granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Liberians present in the United States. Since that time, the status of many Liberian refugees in the United States has been extended through renewals of both TPS and DED. The current DED extension is set to expire on March 31, 2013.
Liberia has made great strides in the past few years, and recently re-elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has won much praise in her efforts to rebuild her country. However, socio-economic conditions remain challenging, and the security situation remains fragile and must be managed carefully. The presence of the United Nations (U.N.) Mission in Liberia continues to be necessary in order to guarantee peace and security in Liberia, and the U.N. Secretary-General’s August 2012 report on the mission notes significant continuing security risks posed by civil unrest, public disorder, and violence against women, as well as by instability along the country’s border with Cote d’Ivoire. Additionally, according to recent estimates, 64% of Liberians live below the national poverty line, only 16% are formally employed, and 82% are without access to proper sanitation.
The United States must continue to do all that is necessary to assist in the reemergence of Liberia, to ensure regional stability, help foster Liberia’s continuing post-war recovery, and protect the substantial foreign policy assistance and peacekeeping investments that the United States has made in Liberia. We strongly believe, as you stated in August 2011, that it continues to be in our foreign policy interest to extend DED to those Liberians presently residing in the United States. Moreover, a flood of Liberians from the United States could overburden the country’s limited infrastructure and reverse the advances that Liberia has made. It would also stem the crucial socio-economic investment and assistance that Liberians in our country provide through remittances to their relatives in Liberia. As such, we believe it is beneficial for both countries if they are allowed to remain in the United States.
Liberians, many of whom have lived here for more than two decades, should not be forced to return to a country that is still in the process of rebuilding. These individuals are lawful and tax-paying members of our communities, many of whose sons and daughters are American-born citizens serving in our military. We, therefore, request that you grant eligible Liberians a reprieve from imminent deportation by once again extending DED status to all eligible Liberians, including those who arrived after October 2002.
Furthermore, the current system of short-term DED renewals leaves Liberians and their families with perennial uncertainty about whether they will be able to remain members of the communities they have come to call home. For this reason, we urge you to support comprehensive immigration reform that includes an adjustment to permanent resident status for qualifying Liberians and their families.
We appreciate your consideration of this request.