About 10 thousand Liberians living in the United States under a special immigration status are calling on President Obama’s administration and the U.S. Congress to grant them permanent resident status. These Liberians who fled their country’s civil war since 1992 have been living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
Each year they rely on the President of the United States to grant them temporary reprieve by extending their stay. In September 2007 President George Bush extended the DED for 18 months which expires in March this year.
Anthony Kesselly, national president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) told VOA Liberians want a permanent solution to their immigration problem.
“Actually what Liberians want is a permanent resolution of the problem which basically is giving them permanent residency status. That’s why we have been pursuing legislation in both houses of Congress for a more permanent solution. We want to take care of the problem once and for all,” he said.
Kesselly said Liberians are tired of yearly renewals of their immigration status.
“You will know that extension is a temporary measure, and you know that if you are in temporary status it can come with some uncertainties. We want a final resolution. If we are permanent residents we can continue to invest here, we can settle down with our children who are American citizens. But if you are in a state of not knowing whether you’re going to be put in a deportation criteria or whether you’re going to stay, it comes with its own repercussions,” Kesselly said.
Some U.S. anti-immigration groups have argued that the Liberians under TPS should go home since their country was no longer in a war situation.
But Kesselly said those groups should know that the United States cannot be an isolationist country. Besides, he said Liberia is still an unstable country in many ways.
“Yes, Liberia is on its course to recovery, but yet you know the dislocation in that country, you know the extent to which people were uprooted, and you know how fragile the situation is right now. The country is being held together security wise by United Nations troops. You know there is no employment; you know people here work and remit money back home to sustain people. Can you imagine sending an influx of people here into that economy? It’s going to introduce a lot of things that would boomerang. It would back fire again and send people running,” he said.
Kesselly said while Liberians living in the United States would like to go home to contribute to the development of their country, Liberia’s current economic situation makes it almost impossible for them to be absorbed into the economy.
He brushed aside criticism that Liberia, which has had an elected government for more than three years should still be considered unstable.
“I only wish the only problem in Liberia was the question of elections, but elections don’t automatically bring employment; elections don’t repair all the housings that people lost; election does not bring back family members on whom people used to depend who were killed by the war. Yes, election is one step forward, but it doesn’t create the condition that can absorbed all of these people in this unplanned manner,” Kesselly said.
About 15 members of the U.S. Congress, including Senator Jack Reed and Representative Patrick Kennedy both of the state of Rhode Island and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota have spearheaded the effort to renew past TPS.
Kesselly said he will lead a delegation early March to meet with Senator Jack Reed and ask him to re-introduce his legislation from last year seeking to grant Liberians under the TPS permanent residency.
Kesselly agreed that infighting within ULAA, the umbrella organization of Liberians in the United States could make lobbying for renewal of TPS a tough thing. But he said all Liberians irrespective of their differences are united in their effort to get permanent residency for Liberians on TPS.