Liberians Rally For Adjustment of Immigration Status

The Perspective
May 17, 2001

Under the auspices of the Liberian Immigration National Advocacy Commission - a committee organized by the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), a rally is being held today, Thursday, May 17, 2001, in support of the "Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2001". The bill was introduced last year but did not have bipartisan support. According to the organizers of the rally, the new version of the bill (S-656) has garnered broad bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate. January, 2001, was the cut off date for s-656.

Spearheaded by Representative Patrick Kennedy and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the "Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2001" aims to advocate for the granting of Permanent Resident Status to over 10,000 Liberians who have resided in the United States under the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) since 1991. TPS is a form of protection offered when conditions in a country are determined to be too dangerous or unstable for its nationals to safely return.

Even though TPS for Liberians ended since September 28, 1999, the Clinton administration determined that for foreign policy reasons, it was extending the protection from removal for another year. The extension, known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), granted by the Clinton administration will expire on September 29, 2001. Under the DED, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), stipulated that it would defer for one year the removal of certain qualified Liberians present in the United States.

"With certain exceptions, the eligible class for Liberian DED-related employment authorization consists of Liberian citizens or nationals who are present in the United States as of September 29, 2000. The word "present" is defined to mean no absences from the United States after September 29, 2000; or, if there were absences since that date: 1) the total time period of such absences does not exceed 180 days, and 2) for each absence, the Liberian either returned to the United States with advance parole, or was inspected and admitted to the United States."

Having been kept in a holding pattern for the last several years, Liberians are urging Congress and the Bush administration to elevate their status to a permanent one when their current DED protective status expires in a few months.

The arguments for permanent residency seem more powerful and overwhelming than they were at any time before: basic necessities such as water supply, electricity, healthcare are lacking (last year the Health Minister admitted that Liberia, a country of over 2.5 million people, had only 25 medical doctors), education is markedly sub-standard (last year about 40% of the students who sat the National Exams administered by the West Africa Exam Council failed); sanctions imposed by the United Nations for Liberia's involvement in fueling the war in Sierra Leone by its support for the RUF rebels; the long-running war in the northern Liberia, Lofa County, between the government and dissident forces, is reported to be escalating with a high toll in casualties on both sides. This has led to instability in the country.

To the contrary, however, there are those who argue that while the conditions are ripe for such initiative, Liberians are often slow to seizing an opportunity or are complacent in matters affecting their own well-being. "Liberians hardly write or call their congresspersons on issues concerning them, let alone, participate in rallies or demonstrations to dramatize their plight", a Liberian Community activist observed. But organizers of today's event expect thousands of Liberians to turn out today for this last-ditch effort.

Meanwhile, some Liberians on the DED are complaining about the double-standard applied by the U.S. government. "While the U.S. government is dragging its feet in adjusting our status, it is quick in granting political asylum or adjusting the immigration status of the perpetrators of the Liberian horrors", lamented a DED beneficiary .

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