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National Defense Authorization Act provides Liberians on DED with path to citizenship

National Defense Authorization Act provides Liberians on DED with path to citizenship

Liberian residents living in the United States without permanent legal immigration status will have the opportunity to apply for green cards and citizenship due to provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, which was recently signed into law.

Provisions included in the $738 billion spending package offer Liberians living in the United States with Deferred Enforced Departure immigration status a pathway to citizenship. The immigration status was offered to Liberians escaping the country’s civil war, which provided them with temporary legal residency in the United States. DED holders did not have the opportunity to gain citizenship status, however.

Temporary Protected Status was first granted to Liberians by former President Bill Clinton in 1991. Deferred Enforced Departure status was later issued by former President George W. Bush. Both Bush and former President Barack Obama extended DED.

While President Donald Trump advocated for ending the program in March 2019, he approved a one-year extension through March 2020. He signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law Dec. 20, 2019.

If the status had been allowed to expire, Liberians with DED status, many of whom have lived in the United States since the 1990s, would have been liable for deportation.

Minnesota has one of the largest concentrations of Liberians in the country, with many of them living in the northwest suburbs, particularly Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.

The provisions, dubbed “Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness,” in section 7611 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, allow Liberian nationals who have been continuously present in the United States since Nov. 20, 2014, to apply for a green card. Liberian nationals, their spouses and their unmarried children under 21 years old are eligible for green cards.

Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) and Jack Reed of Rhode Island pushed for the provisions to be included in the Senate version of the bill. Supporters in the House included Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), as well as Democrats Dean Phillips and Illhan Omar, among others.

“Our nation is the land of promise and opportunity,” said Phillips. “If you are here legally, play by the rules, and contribute to your community, you should have nothing to fear - and our Liberian neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family are finally breathing a sigh of relief. Over many months, I have worked together with Minnesota’s extraordinary Liberian community to elevate their stories and legislate a permanent fix for DED. I’m overjoyed and celebrating alongside them today and am thankful to my colleagues Rep. David Cicilline, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Sen. Tina Smith, and Sen. Jack Reed for finding a way to get this done.”

Brooklyn Park City Councilmember Wynfred Russell, who was born in Liberia, said that people across the northwest suburbs are excited to hear about the legislate action.

“Folks are feeling euphoric, but that feeling is not exclusive to the Liberian immigrant community,” he said. “Brooklyn Park and the entire northwest suburbs are elated because of the majority of the DED beneficiaries in the country live in the region and had they not been given the protection it would have destabilized families and our communities … the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act even went beyond the community’s expectations. Certainly, we didn’t think it would have come under this administration, and certainly not the NDAA. Under the bill, people will become eligible for full U.S. citizenship after five years.”

“The Liberian community is breathing a sigh of relief and is greatly appreciative of the bipartisan effort that gave many individuals the opportunity to continue supporting their families, and to contribute as members of our community,” said Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who was also born in Liberia. “Many Liberians civic and economic contributions have strengthened the fabric of our community. They make up a significant portion of the healthcare system taking care of our senior population in assisted living housing and nursing homes; and they are lawyers, doctors, teachers and business professionals as well as parents to students in our schools.”

Russell said that the provisions in the act are sufficient to meet the community’s needs.

“This was the best Christmas gift that Liberian immigrants could have hoped for,” he said. “I see this provision and the passage of the bill and signing by the president as a major win. It’s all positive. The fact that it will cover Liberian immigrants who are holders of Deferred Enforced Departure, Temporary Protected Status, and others is significant … After more than two decades of uncertainty, this is a huge victory for Liberian immigrants, advocates, and congressional leaders, many of whom are from Minnesota, who have been pushing for a pathway to citizenship. Liberians have lived here for years, paid taxes, open businesses, and have made so many positive contributions to their various communities, especially in Minnesota, deserve permanent resident status and a path to becoming full citizens.”