Status of Liberians in the U.S.


Since the former rebel leader Charles Taylor stepped down as Liberia’s president in June 2003, the country’s civil war is said to be over. But a struggle still exists for many Liberians living in Minnesota who now have to deal with returning to their homeland.

The problem is not merely the cost of moving, but also the emotional and social implications of moving to a country that many don’t remember, and that some have been trying to forget.

James Garway, 43, who fled Liberia ten years ago, now lives in Brooklyn Park, MN. He fears what life may be like in a country where more than 75 percent of homes have no electricity or water. Besides the dire state of the country’s infrastructure, a lack of proper sanitation has increased waterborne diseases such as cholera. There is also still a lot of animosity and resentment towards many of those who left Liberia in the first place.

Other coverage of Liberia in the TC Daily Planet:

Truth-seeking: Historic Liberia hearings in St. Paul reveal horrors

Liberians want to stay in Minnesota

Obama offers relief for Liberian immigrants

Students, and working professionals were among those specifically targeted from the outset of the conflict. Many doctors, lawyers and intellectuals were forced to flee. Garway, who was a student at a college in Monrovia was among those who fled.

Liberians in Minnesota
from Advocates for Human Rights website
Temporary protected status was first offered to Liberians in 1991 due to dangerous conditions resulting from the 14-year civil war in Liberia. Temporary protected status has been extended every year since 1991. It is estimated that there are between 4,000 and 10,000 Liberians under temporary protected Status in the United States. An estimated 25,000 Liberians live in Minnesota, one of the largest Liberian communities outside of West Africa.

While the United States now considers Liberia to be politically stable, there are still serious concerns with the Liberian economy. Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world and currently has an unemployment rate of 80 percent.

“It was very desperate, there was no food,” Garway said. “They [Taylor’s rebel forces] were killing people indiscriminately, I saw babies being torn apart in the streets.”

Now a senior at the Concordia University, Garway said he is no longer able to qualify for Temporary Protected Status. Only those from a country considered to be a state of conflict can qualify for TPS. Instead, Garway was placed under Deferred Enforcement Departure, which means he will need to leave by September 30, 2009. Garway is appealing to Rep. Keith Ellison to act on a solution to this problem.

Many Liberians like Garway, are grappling with returning and fear being targeted back in Liberia for their affluence. There are still kidnappings for ransom in Liberia and those returning–many of whom are very affluent–are perfect targets. Those who fled the country were often portrayed as having betrayed their homeland, which only stokes further animosity towards them when they return.

Garway wouldn’t allow his picture taken because he fears those who participated in the war and are now also living in the United States.

“The tension is very great,” said Garway. “We are stuck in a state of limbo as to whether we will be forced to leave or allowed to stay and apply for citizenship.”

Money sent from family in the United States is the only means of income that many in Liberia have. Along with Garway’s appeals to Ellison for a path to citizenship, is an appeal to all Americans to recognize the U.S.’s importance to Liberia. The capital of Liberia, Monrovia, was named after the U.S.’s fifth president James Monroe. By the end of 2000, more than 200,000 Liberian refugees had come to America, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

“We are very grateful to the United States,” Garway said. “And we are pleading with authorities to grant permanent citizenship.”

Garway fled Liberia with his brother who now works with him at a factory in New Hope. Garway’s brother (who did not want his name printed) has three daughters, all of whom are American citizens. He worries that they may not be able to adjust to a life in Liberia, away from childhood friends and everything they know. Living in Liberia could prove to be very different from their lives in Brooklyn Park.

Marshall Glynn is a student at the University of Minnesota, and can be reached at

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