A Sigh of Relief for Liberians: House Extends Key Immigration Benefit

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Only one-year extension for Temporary Protected Status approved.

Washington Yonly resigned from his position at Home Depot last month to prepare to move back to a refugee camp in West Africa. That’s because the Homeland Security Department last year discontinued his temporary immigration status.

“It felt like turning the clock 10 years back,” said the 57-year-old Liberian national, who arrived from that same refugee camp in 1998.

Like 4,000 Liberians in the United States, Yonly was under a special immigration provision called “The Temporary Protection Status” or TPS. It’s designed to grant citizens of certain unstable countries to live and work in the United States for a renewable one-year basis until security improves in their homeland.

After electing a Harvard-educated woman as president, Liberia, a West African nation founded by former American slaves, enjoyed a relative but fragile stability since 2005.

Yonly, who’s also the chairman of the Immigration Committee for the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, is among an estimated 1,000 Liberians in the state with TPS. The Homeland Security Department notified them to leave the country by Oct. 1.

Months of protests and lobbying congressional officials paid off. With a push from U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., the House passed yesterday a resolution to extend the TPS for Liberians for another year.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” said Yonly, whose wife, a registered nurse for 21 years, also has the temporary status “The [resolution] gave us courage to continue our lives here…and to not become a burden on Liberia.”

In a statement, Ellison said, “Liberian-American families who have made Minnesota their home for the past 16 years should not be forced to abandon their communities and families and return to a fledgling democracy that is not economically capable of absorbing them at this time.”

The Senate and the president have to approve the bill before it becomes law.

But for now, Yonly is beginning to unpack.

“These people went through a period of high anxiety and uncertainty,” said Wynfred Russell, a Liberian who’s an adjunct professor of education at Century College.

Still, the community is hardly celebrating. Russell said Liberian-Americans are lobbying Congress to grant TPS holders a permanent residency-a proposition supported by Ellison and other lawmakers.