An estimated 30,000 Liberian immigrants and first-generation residents live, work and go to school in Minnesota. Some have been here legally for two to three decades and have raised families, bought homes, started businesses and paid taxes here for years.
Yet thousands of them could become illegal immigrants subject to deportation if federal action isn’t taken this week. That would be an unjust, inhumane way to treat a community that has contributed so much to the state’s economy and society.
Not only would it be cruel to break up families and force residents to a nation they no longer know. Many with Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status bought homes and had children who are U.S. citizens. And many work in the state’s health care industry — an area that is hurting for workers.
That’s why Congress must move quickly to override the Trump administration’s decision to end the DED program on March 31.
President Donald Trump said a year ago that he wanted to end DED (which applies only to Liberians) and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) categories. Both allow immigrants from certain countries to stay in the U.S. because it could be dangerous for them to return to their home nations. Trump argued that Liberia is no longer experiencing civil war and has recovered from a 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.
Liberians were first granted that status by President George H.W. Bush. Extensions were approved by subsequent Republican and Democratic presidents because Liberia was embroiled in civil war for two decades and because the administrations hoped that Congress would include a more permanent solution in a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Trump has said he will not issue another extension but has hinted that he might sign legislation that includes provisions that have pathways to citizenship for some immigrants. But that’s not going to happen in a week.
The most likely solution so close to the deadline is speedy approval of a suspension bill, according to a congressional staffer. That type of measure can move more quickly through both chambers and provide temporary relief to those in danger of losing their legal status.
A spokesperson for Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said the bill would roll DED immigrants into the TPS program for a few years, which would remove the immediate threat to Liberians and give Congress time to pass something more comprehensive.
In a passionate floor speech this month, freshman congressman Phillips, whose Third District is home to thousands of Liberian immigrants, spoke to the issue. “Our Liberian neighbors are friends, they are workers, and they are taxpayers,” he said. “They have played by the rules, they have worked exceptionally hard, they have thrived in good jobs. If we lose them, we will be losing our workforce … our community … our family.”
Last week, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman sent a letter, signed by more than four dozen state legislators, to Trump urging an extension of DED. And the majority of Minnesota’s congressional delegation stands with the state’s Liberian community in seeking a way for them to remain in the U.S. legally.
In the next few days, Congress should push through the suspension option to let Liberians remain in their U.S. communities.