WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, included a major victory for the Liberian community in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 that will extend legal status for thousands of Liberians.

Senator Reed included a provision in the NDAA backed by Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) and the rest of the Rhode Island delegation, to allow eligible Liberians in the U.S. currently on the temporary immigration status of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to continue living legally in the U.S. and get on a pathway to earning U.S. citizenship.  In order to be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the law, applicants must have been living in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014, not been absent for more than 180 days in aggregate, and be otherwise eligible and admissible for permanent residence.

The NDAA provision was based on S. 456, the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, which Senator Reed introduced in the U.S. Senate.  Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced companion legislation (H.R.1169) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The legislation is estimated to impact about 4,000 Liberians who have been legally living in the United States.

“After decades of uncertainty, this is a huge win for my Liberian brothers and sisters and a great day for America.  This provision will adjust the status of Liberians on DED and those formerly on TPS to enable them to apply for permanent residency.  Liberians who’ve legally lived here for years, paid taxes, and made so many positive contributions to their various communities, especially in Rhode Island, deserve the opportunity to get on a path to becoming full citizens.  Everything they have in America they’ve earned through hard work and hard work should be rewarded,” said Senator Reed.  “These individuals came to America seeking safety from devastating wars and disaster.  They’ve made a home here, built their lives, and strengthened our communities.  America is their home and they shouldn’t be evicted.  Forcing them back to Liberia now would create real hardships both here and in Liberia.  By extending their legal status, we are providing much needed certainty and a measure of security for individuals while helping foster Liberia’s post-war recovery.”

“I’m pleased that the House advanced this critical legislation,” said Congressman Cicilline. “Rhode Island is home to more Liberian nationals per capita than any other state in our country. I am proud to continue standing up for them and for all those who have found refuge and contributed to our society.”

The West African nation of Liberia, which was founded in 1822 by freed slaves from the United States, was plagued by civil war in the 1990s and more recently by a major Ebola outbreak.  As part of its humanitarian response, the United States offered certain Liberians an opportunity to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) systems, extended by both Republican and Democratic administrations beginning in 1991.

Last March, President Trump extended DED for qualified people from Liberia for one year, through March 31, 2020. 

“Many Liberians are making important economic and civic contributions and should be allowed to stay.  Some who were brought here as children have grown up and now have children of their own who are U.S. citizens.  This bill will help provide much needed certainty and stability to families who were facing an uncertain future and possible deportation,” said Senator Reed, who originally introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act in 1999 and has reintroduced the bill in every session of Congress since that time. 

Original Senate cosponsors of the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act include Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  Cicilline’s companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives was originally cosponsored by Jim Langevin (RI-02), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Dean Phillips (MN-03), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL).

Rhode Island has one of the largest populations of Liberians per capita, and Senator Reed has been working since 1999 to allow this community to legally remain in the United States.  Many members of the Liberian community in the United States financially assist families and communities back in Liberia and make important contributions to Liberia’s reform and development.  Liberia’s continuing recovery efforts could be reversed if these remittances end, harming the United States’ foreign policy interests in the region.

The NDAA was approved 377-48 by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday and is scheduled to be voted on Monday by the full U.S. Senate.

The language Reed included in the NDAA follows:

Liberian refugee immigration fairness (sec. 7611).

Summary: Section 7611 allow eligible Liberians to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a pathway to citizenship.

Details: Section 7611, provides for the adjustment in status from temporary protected status to legal permanent residence, for Liberian nationals and their spouses and children, if the applicant:

Submits an application within 1 year of enactment of this act, has been living in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014 and not absent for more than 180 in aggregate, and is otherwise eligible and admissible for permanent residence.

It would prohibit eligibility for anyone convicted of a violent crime, or an individual who has ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

It would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a process whereby applicants may seek a stay of deportation if they have filed an application for legal resident status and authorize the Secretary to allow individuals to work in the US while their application is being considered. It would mandate work authorization for anyone whose application has been pending for more than 180 days.

If granted, legal permanent residence would be approved as of the date of arrival in the United States.