Liberia: 'A Huge Win for Liberians, a Great Day for America'

opinion

Diana Konate (ACT), LCA President Lucy Wilson Kear, Sen. Jack Reed (center), John F. Lloyd, Dorian Spence (Lawyers for Civil Rights) (1)

U.S. Senator Jack Reed Lauds Liberians After Passage of Bill to Grant Green Cards to Liberians on DED

Following the overwhelming vote by the United States Senate in favor of Permanent Residency (Green Cards) for Liberians on Deferred Enforced Departure Status (DED) and those formerly on TPS, sources on Capitol Hill are confident that the provision, which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, will be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

The Rhode Island legislator lauded Liberians on Wednesday as he offered official briefings to the Liberian community at his Capitol Hill office in Washington DC in the immediate aftermath of the recent approval by the United States Senate of a bill to grant Permanent Residency (Green Cards) to Liberians on Deferred Enforced departure (DED) status.

The United States Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday grant to Permanent Residency to Liberians on Deferred Enforced Departure Status (DED) and those formerly on TPS. The Senator asserted his confidence that the provision which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 will be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. He mentioned strong support by Sen. Tina Smith, MN, and the Republican Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James Risch, ID.

Leading Liberian advocates at the briefing included Liberian Community Association President Lucy Wilson Kear, of Washington DC, and leading Liberian lobbyist, John F. Lloyd who was among the original proponents of Senator Reed's legislative effort which began in 1998. They were joined by representatives of key Washington DC based lobbying groups including Patrice Lawrence of UndocuBlack, Diana Konate of African Communities Together (ACT), Dorian Spence of the Lawyers Committees for Civil Rights.

The historic victory for Liberians came through a legislative maneuver by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and leading champion for Liberian immigration protection in Congress who attached the Liberian immigration protection provision to the NDAA. The bill was approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 86-8. It came after a similarly overwhelming passage last week in House of Representatives by a vote of 377-48.

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 provision would however 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 also 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.

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.

The successful passage of the provision has ignited jubilation by Liberians across America and culminates years of unrelenting lobbying by Liberian community leaders in the U.S.

In his statement issued after introduction of the provision, Senator Reed noted, "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, founded in 1822 by former slaves from the United States, was plagued by civil war in the 1990s and more recently by a major Ebola outbreak. Under these conditions sought refuge in the U.S. through the strong advocacy of their community leaders. 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.

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