By Chip Unruh, Washington, DC
With less than 20 days remaining before Liberian refugees living legally in the United States face deportation, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) are calling on the Obama Administration to lift the March 31st deadline and reintroduce the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act to allow eligible Liberian nationals to continue living here legally and provide them with a path to citizenship.
In the 1990s, the U.S. accepted thousands of Liberian refugees who fled a brutal civil war in Liberia that killed more than 150,000 people and displaced more than half of the population. Since then, the United States has granted short-term extensions of either Temporary Protection Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to allow these families to continue their legal right to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States.
“America is home to these folks. They came here to escape violence and have put down roots and strengthened our communities. Many of these refugees now have children of their own who are U.S. citizens, some of whom are currently serving in the U.S. military. These refugees are here legally and continue to work hard, play by the rules, and pay their taxes. Instead of threatening deportation and splitting up families, or forcing them to rely on short-term extensions, eligible Liberians should have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency and begin the process of becoming citizens,” 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.
“Liberian-Americans are a vital part of Minnesota’s communities,” said Congressman Ellison. “They pay taxes; send their children to school; and own or work at businesses throughout the state. Each year, thousands of Liberian-Americans fear they will be forced to leave their home and leave their family. The 30,000 Liberian-Americans in Minnesota deserve the security of knowing they will be allowed to remain in the United States. They deserve a path to citizenship.”
In addition to reintroducing the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, Reed and Ellison and their colleagues are renewing calls for the Obama Administration to extend DED status for these individuals, who now face a deportation deadline of March 31st. In early January, the lawmakers sent letters urging President Obama to extend and expand DED for Liberians residing legally in the United States.
“In the long term, we need to fix our immigration laws and provide a path to citizenship for Liberians who have been living here and playing by the rules. In the short term, we need to lift the March deadline and extend DED so Liberians who have lived here legally do not face mass deportation,” concluded Reed.
Original co-sponsors of Senator Reed’s bill include U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and William “Mo” Cowan (D-MA). Original co-sponsors of Congressman Ellison’s bill include U.S. Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), James McGovern (D-MA), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).