The extension signed by President Bush allows the state's large Liberian community to breathe a little -- and plan ahead.
Thanksgiving Day is today at Cleo Harris' compact, tidy townhouse in Brooklyn Park.
Harris and other Liberians plan to begin their celebration at churches throughout the Twin Cities, offering prayers of gratitude for the privilege of living in the United States for another 18 months.
"There will be a lot of thanksgiving, a lot of praise," Harris said. "People will even cry. This is like a miracle for us."
For Harris, the extension President Bush granted the Liberians on Wednesday means at least another 18 months of living with the U.S.-born daughter she had planned to leave with relatives in the United States.
It means the money she earns working two jobs as a nursing aide will continue to flow to loved ones in West Africa who depend on her income for rice, medicine and other necessities of survival.
But it also means another 18 months of living on a precarious limb.
The future is so uncertain it would drive most Americans mad. It means crossing fingers while taking ordinary steps such as signing a lease, buying a car, getting married or planning for retirement.
Bush's order came just 18 days before Harris and 3,500 Liberians nationwide (1,000 in Minnesota) were to lose their permission to live and work in the United States.
The permission, called Temporary Protected Status or TPS, was first granted in 1991 as a bloody civil war raged in Liberia. Almost every year since then, the Liberians' fate has been decided within a few weeks or days before their deadline to leave the country.
"Maybe it's just my instinct to believe something good is going to happen," Harris said. "When I pray about something I just leave it ... let it go."
The "something good" she is praying for now is a bill before Congress that would make the Liberians' status permanent and open a path to citizenship.
Like many other survivors of mass slaughter, Harris has learned to celebrate life with a remarkable serenity. While some survivors are psychologically shattered by the trauma of war, others escape with deepened trust in God and extraordinary resilience, said the Rev. James N. Wilson, an Episcopal priest whose own life was threatened during Liberia's civil war.
"They never had the slightest idea during their darkest days that they could be where they are today," Wilson said. "They survived the most difficult times you could imagine -- no food, no water, death all around."
'War made me strong'
Harris, 46, stayed in Liberia longer than most others who fled the violence. She left in 1998, nine years after rebels invaded the country and set off an explosion of chaos and death. Her brother and father were shot. Her cousin was raped. Harris saw more corpses than she cares to remember. She survived days at a time with only tea for sustenance.
One moment, when nothing was left but prayer, came when Harris was trapped between rebel forces with nowhere to run. Monrovia was in flames and the Liberian government had collapsed, shattering all chances of police protection.
"The war made me strong, hopeful, and able to take one day at a time, whatever circumstances came your way," she said.
Harris' daughter, 8-year-old Yatta Cooke, has lived a far more settled life. Her birth here made her a U.S. citizen, and Harris decided as the deadline approached that Liberia was no place for Yatta.