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Obama Offers Relief for Liberian Immigrants


Friday, March 20, 2009
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President Barack Obama has given a 12-month extension extension to
thousands of Liberian immigrants who are on a temporary immigration
status in the US.

Confirming the extension the Communications Director of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Rick Jauert, said, “We welcome this extension, but we will continue to work for a vehicle for a road to citizenship.”

Thousands of Liberians fled to the US following a decades-long civil war that left their country in shambles. While many of them sought refugee and asylum status, thousands others were offered a temporary stay in the US. This temporary immigration status known as TPS (temporary protective status) is usually offered by the American government to citizens of other countries who are already in the US, but are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

A Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), on the other hand, is an extension of the TPS. In 2007, President Bush authorized an 18-month stay which was set to expire on March 31st, 2009.

Liberia is no longer at war. However, the country under the leadership of its president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is slowly making an economic recovery. As it continues rebuilding its infrastructure following the end of the war in 2005 critics have argued that Liberia does not have the capacity to accommodate thousands of returnees should the US deport them.

Legislators hope that these Liberians will eventually get residency status since they are legally in the US and have made homes here. 

US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Harry Reed yesterday introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2009 (S. 656). This bill would allow Liberians who were brought to the United States legally under temporary protection status classification to apply for citizenship. A similar bill co-authored by congressmen Ellison and Patrick Kennedy has been introduced in the House.

In a telephone interview with Mshale, Congressman Ellison contends that the hard work for legislatures has just began, “it takes a long time to get a majority of the Senate and the House on board.”

“I am grateful that President Obama has granted our Liberian neighbors extended DED status,” Representative Ellison said. “This was the right thing to do to keep families together and it embraces the fundamental foundation of an immigrant nation.”

In a press statement following the extension, Senator Klobuchar said, “It was the right decision to grant Liberians extended DED status.  The Liberian Community has become an important part of the social fabric of Minnesota – they are our neighbors and our co-workers. While Liberia continues to be unstable, it is important that Liberians who are here legally are able to continue to call Minnesota home. This extension will allow us to continue our pursuit of a more permanent solution.”

The Advocates, a human rights organization that works with the Liberian community, estimates that there are between 4,000 and 10,000 Liberians under temporary protected Status in the United States. An estimated 25,000 Liberians live in Minnesota.

Read here an article on “Liberian-Americans in Minnesota Want Option to Stay.”

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About Julia N. Opoti

A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 .В She alsoВ edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.В 

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