Many Liberians in the United States are breathing a sigh of relief now that their temporary stay here has been extended. Otherwise, they would have had to leave the country at the end of the month. Voice of America reporter Toni Randolph says the temporary protected status that some 4,000 Liberians live under was due to expire October first. At that time, they were supposed to return to Liberia -- a country that's still recovering from 14 years of civil war.
37-year-old John Thomas is among the estimated one thousand Liberians in Minnesota on notice to leave the U.S. But there was no evidence of an impending move at his small apartment. There were no boxes and he wasn't packing. Instead, he was trying to block out his fears and praying that the U.S. Senate would pass a bill that would extend his Temporary Protected Status -- or T-P-S -- another year.
Thomas says, "So there are a lot of things that cross my mind every night, a lot of nightmares. I don't have a lot of options and I don't know how to address it sometimes. I just resort to, well I have to believe in God and I hope that God can touch the minds of Senators and Representatives of the U.S. and see what He can do for us."
Thomas has lived under T-P-S for nearly six years. That means he's had six annual renewals of his status, with a round of worry each time. He's tried to carry on a life as close to normal as he can. He works as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company and he cares for his two daughters, a 12-year-old and a 4-month-old. Thomas was trying to be strong, but there has been a lot of uncertainty about his immediate future and he admits the angst was taking its toll. Thomas says, "It's stressful, believe me it is. It is stressful. Sometimes you don't concentrate, believe me. But you have to carry on daily life. You have to maintain family, be a role model. Your children have to look up to you to smile. If you sit down and cry, who will they look up to? So you have to be a man. That's what I'm trying to do."
Thomas doesn't want to return to his homeland because, like many Liberians, he fears for his life. He says he was persecuted by rebels aligned with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and that's why he fled to the United States in the first place.
37 year-old Stephen Wreh says he, too, was wanted by rebels in Liberia -- because he tried to protect his brother: "My brother was killed during the civil war because of his political connection. I had a chance to hide my brother when he was being chased. Rebels went to my house and burned my house. Had it not been for the sympathy of neighbors, my family would have been killed. I had to escape."
But even if he didn't fear for his safety, Wreh says there's another reason he doesn't want to go back home. He says the country isn't ready yet. With unemployment at about 85 percent, Wreh says there are few jobs available and some of the basic necessities are not in place, "There's no electricity, except here and there in the capital city. Running water is an issue, as well. Housing is an issue. Where will you go, where will you live, where will you start from?"
Wreh says he can better support his family in Liberia from the United States, although he says he would like to return home when his country is more stable.
Last year, U.S. officials said Liberia was more stable and put Liberians on notice that they'd be leaving. As the October first date for the end of T-P-S approached, Liberians pleaded their cause with Washington lawmakers. In July, the House of Representatives passed a bill to extend T-P-S another year. The Senate was poised to take up the issue again this month -- but the White House intervened. President Bush, citing the fragile political and economic situation in Liberia, has delayed forced deportation, giving Liberians on T-P-S an additional 18 months in the United States. Liberians in Minnesota and elsewhere in the country are hoping to use that time to push their case for permanent residency.