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Minnesota's Liberian community praises legislation that provides pathway to citizenship

Updated: December 18, 2019 08:03 PM

Leaders in Brooklyn Park's Liberian community say their people have received an early Christmas gift after Congress voted to approve provisions for Liberian refugees already living in the United States who have temporary protected status.

As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, passed by both the House of Representatives and by the Senate, refugees with Deferred Enforced Departure will be allowed to stay in the country and will have a path to citizenship for the first time in the immigration's program history.

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The act now heads to President Trump, who has indicated he will sign it.

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"For us, this is the best Christmas gift," said Erasmus Williams, the chair of the Immigration Coalition of Minnesota. "We have struggled to reach this day. People are still in disbelief, but it's a reality."

Thousands of Liberians who live in Minnesota came to the United States over the last 30 years as part of DED. For several years, the program has been in jeopardy of expiring, causing fear and uncertainty among Liberian refugees.

Annie Yonloy is one of those refugees. She fled Liberia in 1984 and has had temporary protected status in the U.S. since that time.

"We travel with our passports, with our traveling documents, just in case they grab you and they want to send you back," Yonloy said.

Yonloy and Williams were part of a small coalition from Minnesota that traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this month to lobby members of Congress to find a permanent solution.

"They agreed with us and said yes, your situation is a unique one," Williams said.

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For Yonloy, getting her green card means she will be able to return to Liberia for the first time in more than three decades.

"I'm so excited," she said. "I will be able now to go home and see my other family that are over there."

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Kirsten Swanson

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