A group of Liberians lobbied in Washington, D.C., this week in an 11th-hour bid to prevent the deportation of many in their community who have resided in Minnesota and across the country under temporary legal status for decades.

They met with lawmakers and the U.S. State Department to call for the extension of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program, which is set to end March 31 after President Donald Trump decided last year that conditions in Liberia had improved enough for participants to return to their homeland.

Thousands of Liberians came to the U.S. fleeing civil war and were permitted to stay under temporary protected status by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, with three subsequent presidents of both parties allowing repeated extensions.

“We are appealing to the conscience of the president,” said Imam Mohammed Dukuly.

He spoke at a news conference at the Capitol attended by Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, whose west metro district includes affected Liberians.

Phillips told the Star Tribune that he believes it will be difficult to extend the DED program through the executive branch. He said he is more hopeful about finding a legislative solution — bills in both houses of Congress would extend protections for Liberians facing deportations.

With Congress on recess next week, time is scarce, but Phillips said he would be on the phone calling colleagues around the country during the break. His office has fielded numerous calls from people frightened about their families’ fate.

If Liberians aren’t permitted to stay, “nobody wins,” said Phillips. “Everybody here under DED is here legally; most have been here for decades. They have families, businesses, jobs and children who are American citizens.”