Liberians Thrown Out Of Heaven And Hell

By George H. Nubo

Liberians everywhere, unfortunately, are now realizing, the hard way, how Taylor's victory is beginning to adversely affect them. Those Liberians who were ready-set to go home after the elections, are beginning to unpack their bags to seek other alternatives. This includes those Liberians who supported Taylor throughout the senseless Liberian civil war. Caution has become their guiding principle as they join the wait-and-see game once more.

What compounded the problems for Liberians overseas is one of Taylor's thank you messages to them. In August, few weeks after his election, president Taylor said that effective December 31st Liberians will have to travel to Monrovia to renew their passports. He said many Liberian passports were being misused by some people trafficking drugs, while some were obtained illegally by non-Liberians.

Though the war is over, there are Liberians overseas who are probably on Taylor's black list. So, some Liberians consider the president's message as a gimmick designed to lure the so-called "troublemakers to Liberia so that he will get rid of them, as was in the case of Sam Dokie. "How will a warlord, who drugged teenagers to make them fight for him during the course of the past seven years for his so-called revolution, now be a policeman?" "Why aren't Liberian embassies charged with this responsibility?" One concerned Liberian asked. As expected, no Liberian is willing to oblige. But it is illegal for Liberians to carry invalid, expired passports .

In another development, the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) program for Liberia that enables Liberians to live and work legally in the United States runs out in April, 1998. Most Liberians who do not have green cards have benefitted from the Temporary Protective Status. But many Liberians have voiced concern that the U. S. government may decide not to renew the program, since Liberia has just had a democratic election which ushered in Charles Taylor as the president. When the temporary protective status expires next April, the stay of Liberians benefiting from the mandate in this country will not be "legit", and they can not go home because of fear of being liquidated by the Taylor government.

To make things worse, certain provisions of the new immigration act that U. S. President Clinton signed into law on Sept 30, 1996 have started taking effect. The new law is considered the most drastic anti-immigrants law passed in the United since the early 1920s. It will adversely affect the lives of immigrants in the U. S. and those who choose to migrate to this country.

Meanwhile, Liberians across this nation were warned in the Feb/Mar '97 issue of The Perspective. The paper carried a letter sent by the then Liberian Consul General of New York, Mr. C. Hne Wilson, to all Liberians. In the letter, Mr. Wilson advised Liberians to regularize their stay in the United States to avoid the harassment of the immigration law that was to take effect on April 1, 1997.

According to the new immigration law, "People "unlawfully present" in the U.S., i.e., those who stay in the U. S. beyond the expiration date of their temporary visa or who entered without inspection by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for more than 180 days, but less than one year, are barred from reentering the United States for three years. People "unlawfully present" in the U. S. for (1) year or more are barred from reentering for 10 years. This includes people who are trying to comply with the law, but whose application to extend or change their visa is significantly delayed. "Exceptions exist to both three or ten years bar for minors, people granted asylum, beneficiaries under the INS "family unity" program, and battered spouses and children." It is not clear as to whether Liberians overlooked Mr. Wilson's caution. The whole immigration concerns hit home after some sections of the immigration law began to take effect recently.

I would caution Liberians who fall in the "unlawfully present" category to seek legal advice from their respective immigration lawyers. The question now is what can Liberians do to assist their brothers and sisters who find themselves in the middle of nowhere? In effect, these Liberians cannot live in this country, nor go to Liberia. In other words, they have been thrown out of heaven and hell.

One of the Liberian organizations that belatedly started finding some solutions is the Union Of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). The Union wants for the Clinton administration to offer green cards to Liberians who are currently benefitting from the TPS program and those whose political asylum applications are pending. When members of the Liberian Community Association of Georgia (LCAG) heard that the President of ULAA, Joseph Korto, had drafted a letter to be presented to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, they were all smiling.

But after the community meeting I decided to take a bird's eye view of the ULAA's letter which was presented to The Perspective. I amazingly noticed that the Union only advanced the following points in the letter:

1. Although relative peace and stability have returned to Liberia, the society still remains largely devastated from the seven years of war, and it will take a considerable period of time to restore total normalcy in the country. In this respect, immediate repatriation by the respective families will expose our young children being raised in America to the current inadequate human conditions in Liberia. These young people, those born in America, as well as those brought over at young ages, are well adjusted to life in America. Exposure to the current conditions in Liberia will not only bring extreme cultural shocks; more importantly, it has the potential to cause serious social and psychological adjustment problems for these growing children.

2. Most of us are engaged in the practice of our respective professions, meaning that we are contributing to the American Economy as workers and taxpayers."

I wonder how many Liberians are practicing their professions in the U.S.? If it is true that Liberians are practicing their professions as Dr. Korto wants us to believe, wouldn't it be in the best interest of our country for these Liberian professionals to go back home and practice their professions in order to contribute to the economy and development of Liberia?

ULAA's argument is not persuasive enough. It lacks the requisite cogent ingredients that would persuade the U. S. government to grant Liberians the green card status. I feel that the letter should have pointed out some reasons why Liberians don't want to rush home. Those reasons should have included human rights abuses by the Taylor government, the lack of freedom of the press and due process of the law. These are values that Americans and most Liberians feel strongly about.

As a concerned Liberian, I immediately called one of ULAA's local board members, Mrs. Mabel Green, so that ULAA would incorporate suggestions from others. Mrs. Green advised that I communicate directly with Dr. Korto since the letter was to be presented on November 7. Surprisingly, I was told days later (Oct 20th to be exact) by Mrs. Green that Dr. Korto had already sent the letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. I was taken aback by the information because I wanted the letter to chronicle reasons why Liberians in this country are not prepared to go home, at least for now.

While ULAA's effort is commendable, it is sad to say, the effort is perhaps little too late. Critics of ULAA contend that the best time for this kind of effort was during the war. They feel that during the past seven years the Union did not make any meaningful efforts to transfer Liberians from TPS to legal resident status. They also pointed out that "the new immigration law is as old as the Korto administration." But Korto's primary concern during his campaign was the renovation of the Liberian Embassy. When he later realized that ULAA does not have the wherewithal to defray the renovation cost, he decided to undertake something that he would call achievement. So he decided to push for green cards for all Liberians, knowing fully well that the timing is wrong and his argument feeble and substandard.

Some Liberians feel that ULAA does not want to do anything that would anger the Taylor government because the Union has become an extended arm of the Taylor government. These observers believe ULAA's immigration effort is mere public posturing by a discredited organization, whose officers are poised to join the Taylor government.

Critics' suspicion that there is an alliance between the Union and the Taylor government was reinforced on Oct 9, 1997, by a post in the Liberian chat room on the world wide web purportedly submitted by Tom Woewiyu. Mr. Woewiyu had this to say to his fellow Liberians in the Liberian chat room: "Is there anyone in this chat room that may be interested in a job in our government? Contact Dr. Joseph Korto or Gus Major directly. Our time has come. This is our time to enjoy. And I make no apologies for whatever may have happened lately. To err is human. We need to forget our immediate past to start with the reconstruction process."

The post outraged most Liberians in the chat room. George Fahnbulleh , one of the outraged Liberians, wrote: "What is even more frightening is that Woewiyu and his band of murderers show no contrition for the death and destruction they have brought to Liberia by dismissing it all by saying "I make no apologies."

The Union officials will serve, at least according to Tom Woewiyu's post in the Liberia Chat room, as employment officers of the Liberian Government. Some Liberians suspect that this apparent alliance dictated the weak and poor language Dr. Korto used in his so-called petition to the U.S. Government.

Another example of the marriage between the Union and the Taylor government is the one involving the chairman of ULAA Board of Directors, Mr. Gus Major. On Nov 19, 1997, Mr. Major informed Star Radio that "many Liberians in the U.S. are desirous of returning home to contribute to the reconstruction process. But he pointed out many Liberians, however, doubt whether they will be welcomed by their countrymen at home." The question is, who are the countrymen who will not welcome Liberians back home? Is Augustus Major talking about the Taylor government or the ordinary Liberians? If ULAA feels that Liberians will not be welcomed by the Taylor government or will be harassed upon return, why is it that the Union did not say that in its letter to the U. S. Government requesting for green card status for Liberians?

Besides, Mr. Major did not inform Star Radio about ULAA's efforts here to get Green cards for Liberians living in this country so that they will become permanent residents of the United States. The duplicity by Union officials is clear. As one observer put it, "Union officials will go to bed with Taylor's government (seeking gravy), on one hand, while they attempt to appease Liberians in this country, on the other."

The attempt of helping Liberians to gain permanent legal status is a good undertaking, but we must put more efforts into it if we are sincere in helping our brothers and sisters. ULAA's weak and poorly written letter has started this essential endeavor to assist Liberians who have not regularized their stay in this country. Now, all Liberians and friends of Liberia should join the initiative in asking the Clinton administration to give favorable consideration to this matter. Efforts by Liberian-Americans could have a greater impact.