WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to preserve the status of Liberians living legally in the United States, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today led a letter signed by fourteen of his colleagues to President Obama urging an extension of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). The current DED extension is set to expire on September 30, 2014, which could cause Liberians living here legally on temporary status to be deported.
Senators joining Reed in sending the letter include: Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“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. Instead of threatening deportation and splitting up families, or forcing them to rely on short-term extensions, in the long term, we should provide eligible Liberians with the opportunity to apply for permanent residency and begin the process of becoming citizens,” said Senator Reed, who has introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, a bill to grant permanent residency to qualifying Liberians living legally in the United States.
Since 1991, Liberians have relied on short-term provisions of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or DED from Presidents of both political parties 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 that allows them to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States.
On March 15, 2013, 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 September.
Additionally, last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Reed serves, unanimously approved the fiscal year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which includes report language Reed requested that encourages the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with the White House and the U.S. Department of State to move expeditiously on considering this DED extension for Liberians.
The senators wrote: “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, while we urge you to grant a lengthy extension of at least two years and to make this announcement well in advance of the current DED expiration, we continue to call for comprehensive immigration reform that includes an adjustment to permanent resident status for qualifying Liberians and their families.”
Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):
July 18, 2014
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to urge you to extend for two years Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians residing legally in the United States. In addition, we ask you to take early action on this matter to avoid anxiety and uncertainty in our country’s Liberian communities.
As you know, in 1989, Liberia became engulfed in a devastating seven-year civil war. More than half the population fled the country or became internally displaced, and an estimated 150,000 individuals lost their lives. During the conflict, food production was halted, and the country’s infrastructure and economy were destroyed. A second civil war, which began in 1999, ended four years later with the departure from power of former President Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence after being convicted of war crimes by the Special Court of Sierra Leone.
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 September 30, 2014.
Liberia has made great strides in recent years, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has won much praise in her efforts to overcome the wartime destruction of her country. However, as United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported in early 2014, security conditions remain fragile, and, as noted by the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. Mission in Liberia remains necessary in order to guarantee peace and security in Liberia. Socioeconomic conditions also remain extremely challenging, despite some progress, and severe poverty remains widespread. According to recent estimates, 64% of Liberians live below the national poverty line, 83% are without access to proper sanitation, and only 2% have access to electrical power. Liberia's health system also remains fragile, and in addition to endemic malaria and other serious diseases, Liberia has recently been facing a new threat: an unusually long-lived regional outbreak of the highly contagious and deadly ebola virus.
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 March 2013, that it continues to be in our foreign policy interest to extend DED to those Liberians presently residing in the United States. A flood of Liberians from the United States could overburden the country’s limited infrastructure and reverse the advances the nation of 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 this small but critical population is allowed to remain in the United States.
Liberians, many of whom have lived here for 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 the 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, while we urge you to grant a lengthy extension of at least two years and to make this announcement well in advance of the current DED expiration, we continue to call for comprehensive immigration reform that includes an adjustment to permanent resident status for qualifying Liberians and their families.
We appreciate your consideration of this request.