Once again, about 1,000 Liberians living in Minnesota are in limbo. Without an extension of their temporary permission to live and work in America, they could be deported by March 31.
To allow them to stay, President Obama should quickly issue an executive order that would extend the deadline by at least another 18 months. In 2007, President George W. Bush granted a similar extension, so there is precedent for the action. And another extension would give Congress time to consider legislation that would clear a path to citizenship.
In Minnesota, the possible deportation of 1,000 people would affect the roughly 3,600 Liberians who live here, mostly concentrated in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. Nationally, about 3,600 people could be sent back to Liberia, primarily from Minnesota and Rhode Island.
Many Liberians came here -- legally -- nearly two decades ago as war refugees. Since 1991 they have had an immigration status known as "deferred enforced departure,'' or "temporary protected status'' (TPS) while a brutal civil war has been waged in their home country. When that status was granted, no one knew that the conflict would continue for more than a decade.
Losing so many local Liberian residents would have an impact on the economy. Many are taxpaying owners of homes and businesses. A good number are health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term-care facilities. Their employers are among the biggest supporters of the extension because they don't want to lose good employees.
Though the war in Liberia ended and elections were held in 2006, the small African nation is far from stable. Still fragile after the destruction of most of its infrastructure, Liberia is not ready to take in thousands of repatriates.
Supporters argue that there should be permanent changes in temporary status regulations and in immigration law generally. They point out that Minnesota residents from El Salvador, Honduras, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia could face similar deportation threats in the future.
That's a debate that should take place in Washington. Should the United States continue to offer temporary status to immigrants, the law should be clearer about what that means. It's unreasonable to allow responsible people to establish lives here for a decade or more and not to offer them a path to permanent residency.
Temporary status is one of several immigration policies that should be revisited. Too many American businesses are dependent on an undocumented workforce that can disappear in a raid and deportation proceedings.
To address the plight of Liberians, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., previously introduced legislation that would provide them with an opportunity to apply for permanent residency. A bipartisan group of Minnesota congressional representatives, including Republican Norm Coleman, Rep. John Kline and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar have supported the proposal in the past.
President Obama should grant an 18-month extension, then push for more comprehensive immigration reform.