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President Obama Extends DED for Liberians in US

Anthony Kesselly of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas says his group will now work for permanent resident status for those Liberians on DED

U.S. President Barack Obama has extended for 18 months the special immigration status for about 4,000 Liberians who fled to the United States during Liberia’s civil war.

The renewal of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) takes effect March 31, 2010.

Although the Liberian civil war officially ended in 2003, President George W. Bush in 2007 deferred the enforced departure of those Liberians who originally were granted Temporary Protected Status.

In a memorandum to the Secretary of Homeland Security, President Obama cited “compelling foreign policy interest” for extending the DED.

Anthony Kesselly, president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) said his organization is working with other immigration activists to eventually get permanent resident status for those Liberians on the DED.

“All Liberians, both those on DED and those of us who are necessarily on it are very, very happy and we are very grateful to the United States government, particularly President Obama. And we are very thankful to all of our allies who helped us through this process,” he said.

Kesselly said even though Liberia has had a democratically elected government for the past five years, the country is not yet stabled enough to handle Liberians who might be deported from the U.S.

“As much as there is some process on the ground in Liberia, we still are not convinced by the figures we have – unemployment, shortage of infrastructure, crime and other things. To instantly transport thousands of Liberians who are here and productively contributing to the economy of Liberia…and make them a liability… we just think it’s not going to be either good for Liberia and its economy or the people who are going to be uprooted,” he Kesselly said.

Liberians were among tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in Washington, D.C. Sunday to urge U.S. lawmakers to reform the country’s immigration system.

Kesselly said the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) is working with other immigration activists to work for a comprehensive immigration reform that would eventually lead to permanent resident status for those Liberians on the DED.

“Liberians have been urged by ULAA to participate in all of their state groupings. As a matter of fact, we are pouring on Washington, D.C. March 21st to take part in a rally for comprehensive immigration. Even the people that work with us in the Congress, this is the path they think will eventually address the immigration problem in the country as a whole,” Kesselly said.

Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States Milton Nathaniel Barnes also thanked President Obama for extending the Deferred Enforced Departure of Liberians.

“I believe President Obama’s action is a manifestation of his own wisdom and sensitivity about the issues of Liberians existing here in the Diaspora. I also believe the extension of the DED represents the openness and generosity of the people of America,” he said.

Ambassador Barnes said although the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is pleased by the extension, yet it finds itself in somewhat of a predicament.

“The government finds itself in something of a dilemma. We do want to encourage Liberians to come home because we believe that it is safe, but at the same time we want them to come home in a managed, controlled way that there will be appropriate jobs for them, appropriate structure that will allow them to make a smooth transition,” Barnes said.

Ambassador Barnes encouraged Liberians benefiting from the DED renewal to work toward regularizing their immigration status while extending similar generosity to their fellow Liberians in Liberia.