Key immigration benefit extended for Liberians

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Executive order gives another 18 months under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

Cliff Johnson had given notice to his landlord and was preparing to return to his native Liberia after the U.S. Senate failed over the summer to renew his and other Liberians’ temporary immigration status. He had even booked his flight but was putting off paying for the ticket until Oct. 1, the last day he could legally stay in the United States.

Then Wednesday, the White House announced that thousands of Liberians could stay for another 18 months under an executive decree called Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED.

Johnson believes that “God interfered” and got the White House to act.

“It’s been like this for more than a decade: One day you’re on edge, wondering if you will be deported; the next you’re enjoying the Mall of America,” said Johnson, recounting the 12 years he has held Temporary Protection Status (TPS).

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Abdi Aynte :: Key Immigration Benefit Extended for Liberians
TPS allows citizens of certain unstable countries to live and work in the U.S. for a renewable one-year basis until security improves in their homeland. Liberians, Johnson said, have had the status the longest.

Johnson, who lives in New Hope, is among 4,000 Liberians in the U.S. who were under TPS. More than 1,000 of them live in Minnesota, “and have sunk knee-deep in the Twin Cities suburbs,” he said. Most Liberians are thought to be living in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.

Liberia, a West African nation founded by former American slaves, has enjoyed relative yet fragile stability since electing a Harvard-educated woman as president in 2005. Still, her government asked the U.S. not to deport Liberians, citing an almost non-existent economy.

Congressional delegations for Minnesota and Rhode Island, the two states with the biggest concentrations of Liberians, had worked in a bipartisan fashion to overturn the Oct. 1 deportation deadline.

Permanent solution sought

While lawmakers and immigration activists say the extension until March 2009 is a relief, it isn’t enough.

In a statement on his website, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said: “Today’s decision will…buy time for policymakers to find a more permanent solution for these important members of our community.”

John Keller, executive director of Immigrant Law Center in St. Paul,(comma) said his organization “will continue to work for a permanent solution for the Liberians and all of our newest Minnesotans so that they can continue to thrive in their communities, schools, and places of employment.”

Meanwhile, Johnson said his landlord was “happy to have him for 18 more months.”