The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it will extend temporary legal protections for Liberian immigrants for another calendar year.
Liberian immigrants on the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program have lived and worked legally in the United States for decades and they were just three days away from becoming eligible for deportation. They now have a new deadline of March 30, 2020, when they will either have to live as undocumented immigrants or return to Liberia.
DED is a temporary program for Liberians that allows beneficiaries to legally work in the United States and travel out of the country with permission. It is renewed completely at the discretion of the president and provides no path to citizenship.
Last March, the administration implemented a “wind-down” period for DED, citing conditions in Liberia had improved enough for DED holders to return by March 31, 2019.
“Upon further reflection and review, I have decided that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend the wind-down period for an additional 12 months, through March 30, 2020,” the president said in a White House statement Thursday. “The overall situation in West Africa remains concerning, and Liberia is an important regional partner for the United States. ”
“Extending the wind-down period will preserve the status quo while the Congress considers remedial legislation,” he added.
While DED holders, many of whom live in mixed-status families with U.S. citizen relatives, can temporarily breathe a sigh of relief, the one-year extension is still far from the solution they — and other protected immigrants the administration has tried to pull the rug from under — are asking for.
Many Liberian immigrants under DED have lived in the U.S. for decades. Liberian immigrants were first given permission to legally live and work in the United States in 1999, when former President Bill Clinton created the DED program. Since then, Liberians have applied for protections under DED or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which grants temporary protections to people fleeing war, natural disasters, or epidemics. Like DED, TPS does not provide a path to citizenship.
The Dream and Promise Act, introduced in the House last month, would provide a path to citizenship for DED and TPS holders, in addition to “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrant youth brought by their parents to the United States as children. This version of the Dream Act is the first to cover TPS and DED holders.
The bill is seen as the only viable option for legal immigrants who are forced to live deadline-to-deadline.
“As the March 31, 2019 termination of DED approaches, my life remains in limbo. I have ahead of me opportunities that are unmatched and the termination has already begun to negatively impact my academic and professional development,” Yatta Kiazlou, a DED holder and PhD candidate told the Judiciary Committee this month during a hearing on TPS, DED, and Dreamers.
Kiazolu confessed that the stress of uncertainty caused health problems that forced her to seek professional help from a therapist.
“DED, TPS, and DACA are promises that we have made to our neighbors and we need to fight for these programs by codifying them into law through the Dream and Promise Act,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who represents a district with the largest Liberian population in the country, said last week.
“The Dream and Promise Act would offer stability to over 2.5 million people across the country whose lives were thrown in limbo after the Trump Administration’s cruel decision to end DACA, TPS and DED. I will do everything I can to fight Trump’s mass deportation efforts,” she added.
Omar is one of the Dream and Promise Act’s most vocal supporters. The bill, which historically has received bipartisan support in the past, has no Republican co-sponsors.