Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai visited to Minneapolis on June 17, bringing attention to the plight of 270,000 Liberian Americans living in the United States and the potential for a mass deportation that could occur after September 30 if President Obama doesn’t extend the Deferred Enforced Departure status of Liberians.
Liberians have been coming to the United States since a violent military coup overthrew President William Tolbert in 1980, followed by two civil wars. President Charles Taylor was ousted in 2004 and now faces war crimes charges at the Hague. Democratically elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Minnesota in 2009 where she also brought attention to the plight of Liberian nationals living here.
Boakai emphasized that even though Liberia is no longer at war, the economy is fragile and the infrastructure has been destroyed after two civil wars. “Monrovia, before the war, had a population of 350,000. Today, Monrovia is 1.2 million. That was when we had electricity and water, now without electricity and water; you know what that means. The challenge is enormous.” [For background, see Liberia Is Not Ready 2010: A Report of Country Conditions in Liberia and Reasons Why the United States Should Extend Deferred Enforced Departure (February 2010), an Advocates for Human Rights report, and Liberians want to stay in Minnesota.]
The civil war that plagued Liberia off and on until the 2004 ouster of Charles Taylor has paved the way for a fragile peace, but Boakai points out that the influx of refugees from neighboring Ivory Coast and the potential of a mass deportation from the United States could push the country backwards from the progress it has made.
Boakai added that Liberians are welcome, but highlighted that Liberian Americans should be allowed to return to Liberia when they want to, not by force.
Representatives from Senator Al Franken and Representative Keith Ellison’s office were present to show support. Senator John Reed (D-Rhode Island) has introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, which would allow certain Liberians to live in the United States permanently. Minnesota has a large population Liberian immigrants.