3/14/2019 — 

Madam President, I come to the floor today to plead on behalf of Liberians who face the immediate threat of deportation from the only home many of them have known. I have come to the floor many times over the last two decades to highlight the plight of Liberians, who, after fleeing civil wars, political turmoil, economic instability, and deadly disease, were given the ability to stay in the United States and work, pay taxes, and contribute to our country and local communities by successive Republican and Democratic administrations—that is, until last year, when this President terminated deferred enforced departures, DED, the most recent status offered to Liberians.

I urge the President to reconsider his decision and reinstate DED by March 31 to save Liberians from being forced to leave their jobs, their families, and their homes. Moreover, the Liberian community deserves a long-term solution. That is why I also urge my colleagues to take up S. 456, the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, to end the perpetual limbo for Liberians here in the United States and ensure our national security interest in fostering Liberia’s recovery. This bill provides legal status and a pathway to citizenship for qualifying Liberians. I have introduced similar legislation continuously since coming to the Senate and have worked to include its key objectives in comprehensive immigration reform bills that passed the Senate in years gone by, only to die in the House of Representatives. I have been joined in this mission by countless advocates and many colleagues, including my Rhode Island colleague, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as Senators Klobuchar, Smith, Durbin, Cardin, Van Hollen, and others. I thank them for their support and urge the rest of our colleagues to join us in supporting the Liberians who are hard at work enriching our communities.

Today, I met with several Liberians from Rhode Island. I hope my colleagues similarly meet with Liberians from their States so they can hear firsthand about what would be lost if these members of our communities are deported. Beginning with its founding in the early 19th century by freed American slaves, our country has had deep ties with Liberia. It goes without saying that when Liberians faced tragedy, with their country engulfed by a civil war that would last from 1989 to 1997, claiming the lives of thousands, displacing more than half the country’s population, halting food production, collapsing the economy, and destroying its infrastructure, that our country would open its arms. By 1991, an estimated 14,000 Liberians had fled to the United States. In March of that year, the Attorney General under President Bush granted them the opportunity to register for temporary protected status, TPS. Before the prospects for a safe return could be realized, Liberia plunged into a second civil war from 1999 to 2003. This horrific conflict ended with the departure from power of former President Charles Taylor, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes. In 2014, still poverty-stricken and struggling to recover, Liberia found itself plunged into an extensive outbreak of the Ebola virus. Ebola killed an estimated nearly 5,000 of the over 10,000 persons in Liberia who contracted the disease. The outbreak overwhelmed the country’s already fragile healthcare system, infrastructure, and economy while exacerbating social tensions. Throughout these tragic conflicts and challenges, Liberians who fled to the United States have been granted the ability to stay here either under TPS or DED while conditions remain unstable in Liberia. In order to participate, these Liberians had to submit to vigorous vetting, pay hefty fees, and stay out of trouble with the law. While unable to access earned benefits available to American citizens, these statuses at least allowed Liberians to apply for work authorizations so they could join the workforce or start their own businesses, pay taxes, and raise families. Once again, they work, but they do not earn any of the benefits other Americans earn. They have found themselves and their communities have found them to be some of the most responsible, hardworking, and decent people we see throughout our communities. Many of these individuals have American citizen children who attend American schools and serve in our military. These children have known no home other than America. They are Americans, and it would be a tragedy if their parents and grandparents were suddenly taken away, physically taken away and sent back to Liberia, because for all of them, since the early 1990s, America has been their home. In the years since 1989, Liberians have become our neighbors and friends, pastors, soldiers, police officers, health workers, and many more professions. They are an important community that contributes a great deal of diversity and prosperity in States like Rhode Island, Minnesota, Idaho, and other places around the country. It would do our country no good and would be simply cruel to uproot these Liberians from their families, employers, and communities.

Moreover, deporting these Liberians would be contrary to the national interest of the United States and destabilizing to the already fragile West African region. We must pursue all possible efforts to ensure regional stability by fostering Liberia’s continuous post-war and post-Ebola crisis recovery. We must also continue to build on our country’s substantial foreign policy investments over the past years, including U.S. bilateral assistance and peacekeeping investments in the region. Given Liberia’s precarious condition and lack of resources, the sudden deportation of as many as 4,500 affected people to Liberia would overburden the country’s limited infrastructure and ability to maintain peace and deliver essential services, all the while sabotaging the hopes for progress following the country’s first democratic transition of power in years that occurred last year. Deporting this population would also cause Liberia economic harm by curtailing crucial private sector investment and socioeconomic assistance that Liberians in America have long provided in the form of remittances to their relatives in Liberia. I again plead with the Trump administration to reinstate DED. Please don’t separate and uproot hundreds of Liberian-American families from their jobs and homes and force them to return to a country that is unrecognizable for many of them. These Liberians are Americans in every sense of the word except for a piece of paper. While discussions continue about the best path forward for Dreamers and TPS, Liberians cannot wait another month or another year. They have just over 2 weeks before their time may be up. In my view, with each year that has passed since the first of these Liberians arrived, the case has grown stronger that they should have the option to adjust their status and remain in the communities where they have made their homes and raised their families.

We have long since reached the point where simple justice requires that Congress extend this option to these Liberians. So in addition to urging President Trump to reinstate DED, I also urge my colleagues to take up and pass the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act and put an end to uncertainty for this population after decades of displacement. I yield the floor.