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Legislators Move to Help Distressed Liberian Immigrants Stay in US

Three US congressmen plan to introduce immigration legislation today to help more than three thousand Liberians living in the United States on Temporary Protected Status obtain Permanent Residency Status. Freshman Congressman Tim Walberg of Michigan, is a Republican sponsor of the bipartisan measure, known as the Liberian Refugee Immigration Protection Act of 2007. He says that Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf supports the measure, and he denies that it would cause a “brain drain“ that could deprive Liberians of some of their most talented and best educated citizens.

“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, when she spoke here, called for assistance to allow the nationals to continue for a time to give her administration an opportunity to be of assistance to her people to stay here. I think, of course, she would hope that at some point, they would come back. But I don’t think she sees this as a zero-sum gain because of the warm relationship with the United States,” Walberg said.

Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island has tried unsuccessfully to pass Liberian protection immigration legislation in a Republican-dominated Congress since 2001. With Democrats now holding a majority in the House since the 2006 election, Kennedy, along with Republican Walberg and Minnesota freshman Democrat Keith Ellison, are hoping to launch their proposal at a Thursday press conference that will include appearances by Liberian-Americans serving in the US armed services who have recently returned from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman Walberg explains the motivation for the legislation.

“We have a group of productive citizens here, all of which for the most part stem from having to flee their country that was under civil unrest, and as a group of people, they are hard-working. Education is something they look forward to, and they work in keeping their families together, as well. They’re also great friends of the United States, with the common starting point that we had with them and the fact that they speak English, named their capital after our president (James Monroe), and other parts of their country have contacts with the United States,” he notes.

What makes Liberian petitioners more worthy than immigrants from other needy developing countries for gaining improved resident status? Congressman Walberg says it’s the longstanding relationship with the United States.

“The historical founding by former American slaves, and they have started lives here, have gained employment here, have gotten education, have participated in our armed services. Certainly, other ethnic groups have challenging situations as well who are in the United States, but may not have the same types of relationships that we have with Liberians,” he says.

Although Liberia’s lengthy period of national torment is coming to an end with the restoration of a democratically elected civilian government, Congressman Walberg says he believes there is still a need to open up new opportunities for distressed expatriates.

“Their country is under a great amount of stress in restoring itself. A personal friend of mine, who in fact lived with us, who’s a Liberian, who came over under Temporary Protective Status, is a student, has been working toward a degree, with his intentions of ultimately going back to Liberia and doing some of the relief aid and social service work that benefited him before he was forced to flee. I know for a fact my friend, his wife and children are still over there, they’ve not been in contact, except by phone and letter for almost six years. He can’t go back and be expected to have any certainty of returning here to continue education or to provide resources to send back to his wife and family. It’s going to take time,” he says.