Slipped neatly, and without much fanfare, inside the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a pathway to citizenship for thousands of Liberian immigrants living in the United States without permanent legal status. It seems a great victory for pro-immigrant activists and lawmakers – and President Donald Trump, who signed the legislation to make it the law of the land. It couldn’t come at a better time as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) protection was nearing expiration.
The entire NDAA was endorsed by the president, as he claimed it included each of his “priorities,” and he had tweeted that he would sign it as soon as it passed. President Trump had already extended the DED deadline earlier this year for Liberian immigrants to March 2020, explaining that U.S. foreign policy interests “warranted affording an orderly transition (‘wind-down’) period to Liberian DED beneficiaries.”
The law allows Liberians already in the U.S. to apply for permanent residency if they have lived in this country – continuously – since 2014. They will be eligible for green cards if they have not left the U.S. for more than 180 days: Those who have committed a crime will be excluded. Many of those Liberian immigrants came as refugees after an Ebola outbreak. They enjoyed Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted by the Obama administration, joining others already in the country under TPS granted by the Bush administration in 2007 due to civil unrest in the African nation.
Two U.S. senators, Tina Smith (D-MN) and Jack Reed (D-RI), were the first to publicly press for the immigration relief provision in the NDAA and the reason is perfectly clear for Smith: Minnesota has the largest population of Liberian immigrants of any state. A third senator, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID), also supports the measure.
The Founding of Liberia
A quick refresher on the forming of the Republic of Liberia: It began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), which thought sending African Americans back to Africa would allow for their prosperity and freedom. The Republic officially declared independence on July 26, 1847. Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed slaves and free-born black people traveled to Africa and settled in Liberia. The country’s constitution and government were modeled after the American examples. Black leaders in the U.S., such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, railed against the organization, advising that most American blacks had no interest in Africa or its cultures. And they were right. After 200 years, Liberians seek safety and security in the United States of America – the home of their ancestors.
Perhaps President Trump sees this as a symbolic gesture, as he cited Liberia’s “unique” history of being founded by black Americans, both former slaves and free-born. Whatever the reason, thousands of immigrants can now breathe a sigh of relief.