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Trump ends protected immigration status for Liberians, gives them one year to pack up their lives

The program will end on March 31, 2019.

A general view taken on September 27, 2017 shows the Liberian Flag on the facade of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia. (CREDIT: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view taken on September 27, 2017 shows the Liberian Flag on the facade of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia. (CREDIT: CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump will wind down a temporary immigration program for Liberian immigrants who have legally lived and worked in the United States for the past 16 years, according to a presidential memorandum released Tuesday afternoon.

Authorized at the president’s discretion to conduct foreign affairs, the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program for Liberia is an immigration program that allows beneficiaries to legally work in the country and travel out of the country with permission. The program does not provide a pathway to citizenship.

“Through consultation with appropriate executive departments and agencies and my advisors, I have been informed that conditions in Liberia have improved,” the presidential memo read in part. “Liberia is no longer experiencing armed conflict and has made significant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance.  Liberia has also concluded reconstruction from prior conflicts, which has contributed significantly to an environment that is able to handle adequately the return of its nationals. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease caused a tragic loss of life and economic damage to the country, but Liberia has made tremendous progress in its ability to diagnose and contain future outbreaks of the disease.”

The current DED designation was set to expire on March 31, 2018, but the president gave immigrants an “orderly transition” or a “12-month wind-down period” and set the expiration for March 31, 2019.

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“Accordingly, I find that conditions in Liberia no longer warrant a further extension of DED, but that the foreign policy interests of the United States warrant affording an orderly transition (“wind-down”) period to Liberian DED beneficiaries,” the memo added.

The wind-down period is meant to provide enough time for both the Liberian government to reintegrate these people and allow people still in DED status next year to “make necessary arrangements” to leave the United States. In the meantime, DED recipients will receive employment authorization to legally work between March 31, 2018 and March 31, 2019.

The presidential memo affects DED beneficiaries who have continuously lived in the United States since October 1, 2002, but excludes: individuals who are ineligible for TPS for reasons set forth in section 244(c)(2)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1254a(c)(2)(B)); individuals whose removal the Secretary of Homeland Security determines to be in the interest of the United States; individuals whose presence or activities in the United States the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States; individuals who have voluntarily returned to Liberia or their country of last habitual residence outside the United States; individuals who were deported, excluded, or removed before the date of this memorandum; or individuals who are subject to extradition.

Since 2002, many Liberian immigrants in the United States have toggled between DED and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) extensions to remain legal. Liberians were first given protection under DED in 1999, but when the program expired in 2002, they applied for TPS, which is granted to displaced people fleeing war, violence, natural disasters, or other circumstances preventing them from going back to their homes. When TPS ultimately ended in 2007, then-President George W. Bush authorized DED. The Obama administration has continued to reauthorize DED through March 31, 2018.

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What’s particularly unique about the DED program is that the president does not have to make a decision to renew or terminate the program until the last day of the program, so Liberian DED recipients live in constant uncertainty.

Little is known about the group of current DED beneficiaries, but according to undated data recently provided by DHS, anywhere between 1,000 and 3,600 people are DED recipients. The data also show that about 1,000 DED recipients have valid employment authorization cards, granting them the legal ability to work in the country.

The end of the DED program may not come as a surprise for the Trump White House. In conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Trump administration has aggressively wound down or terminated a series of immigration programs that allow people to work and live in the country. Those programs include TPS for multiple countries and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for certain undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Some elements of the DACA program have been allowed to move forward because of court injunctions. Trump also has not hid his feelings about people from African countries.