Hundreds of Liberians on Staten Island will not have to make the chilling choice between returning to a still-struggling nation or remaining here in the shadows
Liberians living in the United States under temporary authorization would be eligible to remain here and begin a pathway to citizenship, under a provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. The provision applies to Liberian nationals living here for the last 5+ years under Deferred Enforced Departure. The defense authorization bill goes to the president’s desk after passing the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 86-8.
The legislation could impact about 4,000 Liberians who have been legally living in the United States, according to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who included the provision in the defense authorization bill. As part of its humanitarian response to civil war and the Ebola outbreak, the United States offered certain Liberians an opportunity to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) systems. To be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the new law, applicants must have been living in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014, not been absent for more than 180 days in aggregate, and be otherwise eligible and admissible for permanent residence.
“Our pleas have been heard,” said Council Member Debi Rose, who stood with the Liberian community of Staten Island last year in successfully calling on the president to extend temporary status for Liberians for one year. “When this bill is signed by the president, hundreds of our neighbors will no longer be living in limbo. They have obeyed the laws and worked hard, and now they will not have to make the chilling choice between leaving their families to return to a nation still struggling to rebuild its infrastructure, or remaining here in the shadows. I thank all of the community leaders and elected officials who worked together to include this provision in the final defense authorization.”
Undoubtedly, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 bill is a great triumph for the Liberian people following many years of advocacy, campaigning, lobbying for the legalization of the Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients and former recipients of the Liberian Temporary Protected Status (TPS)," said Vamba S. Fofana, National Executive President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). "Quite candidly, the Liberian people see light at the end of what has presented to be a long, dark, complicated, complex and torturous tunnel. On behalf of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, I would like to place on record our gratitude to Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and all US lawmakers who voted for the passage of NDAA bill. We hope and pray President Trump will sign the historic defense legislation (NDAA) bill as expeditiously as possible for it to become law. Equally, we are thankful to our Member-Chapters, our immigration advocacy partners, immigration advocates, faith organizations, friends of Liberia, proponents, supporters, individual Americans, and the Liberian Government officials who have worked assiduously for their continued advocacy and support. We also thank President Trump in advance."
“For the Liberian Refugee Community on Staten Island and Liberian Refugees scattered across the Americas, the historic passing of this legislation is the first step to a pathway to US Citizenship," said Rev. Judy L. Brown, Executive Director of African Refuge and Pastor of Bethel Church Staten Island. "After years of advocacy and fear, the nightmare is finally coming to an end. We praise God and give thanks to Senior Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, those of the New York State delegation and the many other elected officials and advocates who have worked hard on this issue for many years. The passing of this non-partisan legislation is a true testament of what government can do when keeping families together is a priority. This sincere gesture is acknowledged, welcomed and appreciated. It is a special gift to children and their families locally and nationally, just in time for Christmas.”
“On behalf of the families and friends of the DED holders I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to all the members of Congress and the rest of American supporters who made it possible for us, as taxpayers in this great nation to be proud of the great democracy that we uphold,” said Rose Knuckles-Bull, a DED holder living in Staten Island. “We are forever grateful as your ally of many decades. I have been in the forefront of this struggle, and I thank everyone who has heard my concerns. Long live the people of America, and my heartfelt gratitude is extended to them and to the leaders of this great nation.”
"As former Board Chair of African Refuge, I am personally grateful to Senator Reed for including the provisions in the NDAA that permit many of our Liberian brothers and sisters on Staten Island to become permanent residents and, I hope, U.S. citizens," said David Jones, former Board Chair of African Refuge. "They have more than earned this relief after so many years of uncertainty."
“We did it,” said Jennifer Gray-Brumskine, Chairwoman of the Liberians Immigration Committee. “All it takes is one Congressman to develop Liberia. Thank you Senator Jack Reed and Representative Donald Payne Jr. and all of our other partners who have been by our side over the years. It has not been easy getting here. In strong union, success is sure.”
On behalf of African Refuge, we are extremely thankful to everyone who played a central role in getting this document to pass,” said George Tarr, Board Treasurer of African Refuge. “As an organization that support refugees from west Africa, this is a huge victory for everyone in the Park Hill community of Staten Island. We cannot wait to share this new with the people we serve in this community.”
“The passage of the DED legislation is yet another step toward building unity for all those who call America ‘home’," said Rev. Dr. Kathlyn Barret-Layne, Senior Pastor at Reach Out and Touch Ministries Int’l.
“This is great news for Liberians who have been in the USA and need support by getting their permanent starts,” said Rev. Dr. Roselyn Holder-Dimerson, Senior Pastor, Temple of Faith, Inc. “Liberia was founded by the American Colonization society in 1847. The first presidents were Americans who brought the American culture, education, Christianity and more into their newly established home as freed slaves. The education system in Liberia is patterned to that of the United States, and Peace Corps volunteers have taught in schools and provided services to families throughout the history of the west African nation. With gratitude and thankfulness we appreciate this gesture.”
Below is the text of the NDAA provision:
Liberian refugee immigration fairness (sec. 7611).
Summary: Section 7611 allow eligible Liberians to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a pathway to citizenship.
Details: Section 7611, provides for the adjustment in status from temporary protected status to legal permanent residence, for Liberian nationals and their spouses and children, if the applicant:
Submits an application within 1 year of enactment of this act, has been living in the U.S. continuously since November 20, 2014 and not absent for more than 180 in aggregate, and is otherwise eligible and admissible for permanent residence.
It would prohibit eligibility for anyone convicted of a violent crime, or an individual who has ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
It would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a process whereby applicants may seek a stay of deportation if they have filed an application for legal resident status and authorize the Secretary to allow individuals to work in the US while their application is being considered. It would mandate work authorization for anyone whose application has been pending for more than 180 days.
If granted, legal permanent residence would be approved as of the date of arrival in the United States.