Minnesota’s Liberian community got a bit of a reprieve on Tuesday: a one-year extension on a program that has allowed some of them to live and work in this country legally for decades.
But that extension, sadly, is part of a formal wind-down to Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), a program that President Donald Trump said should now come to an end. That is a blow to the thousands of Liberians who have made a home here. While many have long since gained permanent legal status or citizenship, virtually all are tied to someone who is here under the tenuous auspices of DED.
At a State Capitol rally this week, Bebe Fatejo, a Liberian-born psychologist who is now a citizen, said her aunt has been here 18 years under DED. In that time she bought a house, had children, built a nursing career. “She is so sad,” Fatejo said. “This is her home now. How can she leave?”
Make no mistake, the extension is welcome news in the Liberian community. Until Tuesday, few thought there was any chance the administration would grant any extra time. “Nobody thought we would be able to get this done before the end of the week, but we did,” said U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who was among several Minnesota congressional delegation members advocating for the Liberians. “I’m thrilled. This gives us more time for a permanent solution — a path to citizenship. We’ve got more time to put the pieces together and educate others about how much Liberians have contributed to this country.”
But that road may be long, and it almost certainly will lead through Congress, not the White House. In authorizing the extension, Trump made clear that he believes DED has served its purpose, and that the time has come for Liberian nationals under its protection to prepare to return to their homeland. “Liberia is no longer experiencing armed conflict,” he wrote, “and has made signficiant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance.” Whether Liberia — a country smaller than Minnesota — could handle an influx of returnees is unknown. Liberia is one of the poorest nations in the world, with an underdeveloped economy that still depends heavily on subsistence agriculture.
But Trump may be right about this much: Repeated extensions are not the answer. There is a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress that petitioned Trump to extend the program for three years. By that point, some DED Liberians will have lived in the U.S. for 30 years. What larger purpose is served by sending them to a country that they no longer know and that in all likelihood has no place for them? Far better would be to hear proposals being pushed Paulsen, Rep. Keith Ellison, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others that would create a legal path for DED Liberians to stay.
Nearly three decades ago, a big-hearted nation offered shelter to refugees. It extended that generosity time and time again. Those who came built new lives and have given back much. America cannot now rip those lives and families apart — not now, and not a year from now.