Minnesota's Liberian community faces uncertainty as immigration program nears end

February 07, 2019 10:48 PM

A federal program protecting thousands of Liberian immigrants could soon come to an end, causing uncertainty among members of the Twin Cities Liberian community.

The Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program has allowed those immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally for 20 years.

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President Donald Trump decided in March, 2018 to terminate the program, providing a 12-month window to phase it out. He said conditions have improved in the country since DED was implemented by President Bill Clinton following civil war in Liberia.

The program was extended by both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

But it expires March 31.

“The fear is enormous,” said Erasmus Williams, chairman of the Liberian Immigration Coalition. “Their home is here, so you're sending them to a land that they no longer have any relationship with.

"We think it's even more alarming and calls for an emergency urgent action.”

Williams has family members who will be affected.

So does Abdullah Kiatamba, the executive director of African Immigrant Services.

“The extension of DED is critical,” Kiatamba said.

They want to see the program extended by two years. They believe that will give Congressional leaders time to develop a long-term solution.

“Create a more sustainable pathway for citizenship and permanent resident status,” Kiatamba said.

A delegation, including Williams, will head to Washington on Monday to meet with lawmakers.

Democrat U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar put a spotlight on the issue Tuesday by bringing a Liberian immigrant to the State of the Union Address, pushing for a path to citizenship.

According to Williams, parents are afraid they'll be separated from their kids who were born here.

“They are afraid to even call the police if there is something going on because they’re afraid the police might turn them over to ICE,” he said.

There are about 5,000 to 6,000 Liberians living in Brooklyn Park. The City Council just passed a resolution supporting the community and calling on Congress to create a path to citizenship.

“I think the unknown is the worst,” Mayor Jeffrey Lunde said. “Their kids are American citizens. They live and were born here. They've gone to schools here. They own homes here.”

He said the city doesn't know how many residents have DED status, but estimates it could be around 1,000.

Lunde said the city would not be involved in deportation proceedings if the program does expire.

“We don’t ask status in Brooklyn Park,” Lunde said. “We concentrate on police issues and let national authorities focus on that.”

Lunde would like to see the program extended, but he would rather see permanent action.

“We need a full solution,” he said. “I think the left and right, they’re going to have to compromise and that’s very clear.”

The community plans to rally at the State Capitol at 1 p.m. on Feb. 22.

Senator Tina Smith issued a statement on the matter.

 “It’s simple: the Trump administration should extend DED," it read.

"Thousands of Minnesotans with DED immigration status have been living in our state legally for more than twenty years. They do important work - especially in health care - pay taxes, and contribute to our communities.  Forcing them to return to the country they had to flee from decades ago would break up families and devastate the communities here in Minnesota where they have made their homes. 

"We should extend DED, and then take the next step and make sure these Minnesotans have the opportunity to become citizens.”

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