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Liberian Immigrants Celebrate New Pathway To Citizenship

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Thousands of Liberian immigrants celebrated a long-awaited win in mid-December, after the government announced they would provide a pathway to citizenship for them after years of living legally in the U.S.

A provision called the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness, which was buried within the $738 billion defense policy bill passed by the US Senate on Tuesday, Dec. 17, will allow Liberians to apply for legal permanent residency. Jack Reed (D-RI), one of the Democratic senators who led efforts to include the provision in the bill, celebrated the achievement on Twitter.

“Ya Hello-o to all my #Liberian friends & neighbors!” he wrote. “I’m proud of the many contributions Liberians have made to RI & the U.S. I know how much you love America. It is your home. I’m honored to help eligible Liberians achieve permanent legal status & get on the path to citizenship.”

Under the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness, Liberians present in the United States who have been subject to an order of exclusion, deportation, removal, or voluntary departure may submit an application for adjustment of status if they fulfill the eligibility guidelines. Liberians may apply for permanent residency if they have lived continuously in the United States since Nov. 20, 2014, under the provision in the defense bill.

The provision will impact around 4,000 Liberians in the US who, for more than two decades, have been having to plan their lives in periods of 12 to 18 months as beneficiaries of the short-term humanitarian program known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

“It doesn’t feel very real. I’m still processing,” Yatta Kiazolu, a 29-year-old Ph.D. student and Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure holder in Los Angeles, told The World. “Before, we were trying to navigate all these obstacles, and suddenly all these obstacles are almost gone.”

“Maybe when I’m filling out paperwork it will feel real,” she added. “Or maybe when I get a five-year driver’s license and a US passport it’ll feel real.”

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump took a step back in his decision to end said DED two days away from the deportation of thousands of Liberians and extended it for 12 months after saying situation in West Africa in general “remains worrying.”

In addition, he pointed out that Liberia “is an important regional partner for the United States.”

“The relationship between the United States and Liberia is unique,” Trump said in the note, where he points out that reintegrating DED beneficiaries into civil and political life will be a complex task.

In 1991, then-Democratic President Bill Clinton granted the Liberians a Temporary Protective Status due to the civil war in the African country (1989-1997) and, again in 1999, when there was a resurgence of the conflict. On October 1, 2007, President George W. Bush turned it into DED and then in 2014, due to an outbreak of Ebola, the Obama administration designated Liberians nationals eligible for Temporary Permanent Stay (TPS), which had been extended through 2019. 

The process for how and when DED holders can apply for green cards has not yet been announced. 

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.