Many in Minnesota’s long-established Liberian community will have an opportunity to finally apply for U.S. citizenship under an amendment in the defense authorization bill expected to pass the U.S. Senate next week.
The measure would give permanent resident status to Liberians living in the United States under the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program that has allowed them to stay here temporarily for in some cases decades without an opportunity to pursue citizenship. Liberians began arriving in large numbers in the early 1990s, fleeing civil war with temporary protections, but later faced the prospect of losing their status under administrations of both parties.
President Donald Trump twice moved to end the program, noting that conditions in Liberia had improved because it is no longer experiencing armed conflicts and had recovered from a 2014 outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. But as Liberians’ DED status was set to expire on March 31, 2019, the administration approved a one-year reprieve.
Liberians in Minnesota vowed to advocate for a permanent solution before the deadline, noting the uncertainty endured by many in the program who had bought homes, paid taxes, found jobs and had American-born children.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said Thursday that her office has worked closely with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to include the language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act “because it’s a must-pass bill.”
Smith said the defense bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Monday, and Trump has tweeted that he will sign the $738 billion spending package. The House passed the bill Wednesday.