By Lisa Vives
As the Trump administration turns down an ever-growing number of applications for asylum, it surprised many that some 5,000 Liberians in the United States have been granted a path to citizenship.
In fact, it was the product of decades of effort by the Liberian community and its allies.
“This has been a 20-plus-year fight where people have not known their fate,” said Abena Abraham, co-founder of the Black Immigrant Collective, speaking to Sahan Journal in Minnesota. “The passage of this is a relief. It assures Liberians that the U.S. is their home.”
The provision was buried in the $738 billion defense appropriation bill for fiscal year 2020 under “Other Matters”. It will allow Liberians to apply for green cards under the National Defense Authorization Act titled “Liberian refugee immigration fairness”.
Under the provision, about 4,000 Liberians living in the U.S. can apply for permanent residence within one year of the legislation’s enactment. Qualified Liberian nationals will have lived in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014 and not absent for more than 180 days in total.
Anyone convicted of a violent crime, or an individual who has participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion would be prohibited.
Only one year ago, scores of Liberians in the U.S. feared deportation after President Trump set an expiration date of March 2019 for Deferred Enforcement Departure.
But just days before the deadline, the administration quietly issued an executive order extending the program until March 30, 2020. And now, Liberians can apply for permanent residency before the expiration of their current statuses.
“This breakthrough is a testament to the power of organizing, and what a focused movement can do,” said Patrice Lawrence, the National Policy and Advocacy Director for the UndocuBlack Network.
“Our pleas have been heard,” Democratic Councilwoman Debi Rose of North Shore said. “When this bill is signed by the President, hundreds of our neighbors will no longer be living in limbo.”
Meanwhile, back in Liberia, thousands turned out to protest the deepening economic crisis under President George Weah with more than half of the 73,000 public service workers not receiving their full salaries in November and December.