You move halfway around the world to escape a violent civil war and find a home in an unfamiliar, cold place called Minnesota.
You fall in love, get married, buy a house in a beautiful suburb, start a family. You go to work every morning taking care of elderly residents at a nursing home in Brooklyn Park, or doing laundry at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis, or developing medical devices at Medtronic. You get to know your neighbors — many of whom came from the same faraway country as you did — become a leader in your community, maybe even run for office.
And then, one day, America pulls the rug out from under you, forcing you to leave your home, your community, maybe even your children. Despite living here legally, you’re suddenly at risk for deportation.
For thousands of Liberian nationals living and working in Minnesota, this nightmare could become a reality in just a few days — and, right now, only the president of the United States can save them.
For most people, the immigration debate centers on divisive questions like the security of our borders and the fate of the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in America. But the failure of our current system isn’t just about these big issues. It’s about countless bureaucratic potholes: paperwork nightmares, interminable waits, a shortage of immigration judges. And then there’s DED.
In 1990, Congress established the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program so that people from countries like Liberia, who were already here legally on student or tourist visas, wouldn’t have to return home to places ravaged by war or famine. First designated in 1991, that status expired for Liberian nationals in 1999, but the instability in Liberia continued. So then-President Bill Clinton took executive action under a different program called Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED), allowing Liberians to continue living and working in America.
TPS, DED — it’s a lot of confusing alphabet soup. But what it means for Liberians is that their legal status in America rests on the president’s decision to continually renew DED status. And presidents of both parties have indeed done so. In fact, President Donald Trump did it in 2017.
Today, the crisis in Liberia rages on, with outbreaks of sectarian violence, government corruption and widespread poverty. But the DED status of Liberians in America is set to expire on March 31, and President Trump thus far seems content to let it happen.
If that doesn’t change in the next eight days, thousands of Liberians who are living here legally will suddenly face deportation.
This wouldn’t just be a horrific injustice for them, but also a major loss for our state. There are more than 30,000 Liberian nationals living in Minnesota overall, many deeply involved in our civic, business and faith communities. Brooklyn Park alone has more Liberians than any other city outside of Liberia itself, which is why even that city’s Republican mayor has urged the president to take action. These people aren’t strangers. They are our co-workers, our caretakers, our neighbors.
I recently learned more about one of the many Liberian nationals working in our health care system: a registered nurse in Coon Rapids who has been in America since 1984. She works in the bone marrow transplant unit at Fairview Hospital, caring for patients with cancer. She’s married, and she and her husband have adopted three children. She still marvels at our frigid winters, but she and her family love going to Valleyfair, shopping at the Mall of America, hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas. She is a Minnesotan, through and through.
If President Trump does not act, she and thousands of other Minnesotans could be deported to a country they haven’t called home for decades, a country where they may not be safe. And because Liberia does not allow for dual citizenship, many will face an especially painful decision: Force your children, who have never lived anywhere other than America, to give up the U.S. citizenship they earned as a birthright, or leave them behind.
This shouldn’t be an issue. Since I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve worked with my colleagues on legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for qualifying Liberians so they never again have to wait in fear for a president to decide their fate. Our system should provide legal immigrants with a permanent solution and peace of mind, and, in the long term, I believe strongly that Congress should act to pass comprehensive reform that eliminates these kinds of bureaucratic failures.
But, in the meantime, it’s up to President Trump and President Trump alone to protect these Minnesotans.
It’s not too late — not quite yet. The president could still pick up his pen today and solve this. My colleagues and I have written letters, held events, done everything we can to plead the case.
Now I ask you to raise your voice alongside ours by contacting the White House today.
Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.