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Liberian refugees in Minnesota again facing (annual) deportation threat

About 1,000 Liberians in Minnesota are set to be deported in March, unless their deportation orders are delayed by another year. If that sounds familiar, that’s because a similar debate over the fate of these refugees has been going on for years in the same exact fashion – threat of deportation, outrage, and the inevitable one-year extension.

So it is again this year – as it will be for years to come, experts said, unless they’re finally either deported or granted permanent residency.

Liberia was founded as a destination for former American slaves, who gave it its name, a flag that hearkens back to the Stars and Stripes and founded the capital city of Monrovia, named after President James Monroe. The country has deteriorated in the past 30 years thanks to two coup d’etats and a bloody civil war that began when George H.W. Bush was president and didn’t stop until late in his son’s first term. Since the civil war began, Liberian refugees have been welcomed in the United States, and more than 25,000 of them currently reside in Minnesota.

After an election in 2005, the country began making some progress. It is currently absent from the State Department’s “travel warning” list, which includes countries that are listed as “dangerous or unstable” for visitors. Given that, some have called for Liberians remaining in America as refugees to return home.

Their continued right to stay has become an annual question. It depended on the renewal of their temporary protected status, then now upon what’s known as Deferred Enforced Departure – basically a temporary deportation reprieve. Rep. Keith Ellison and both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are among those who have urged President Obama to grant that reprieve once again.

That granting is inevitable, wrote Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, in a critical blog post titled “’Temporary’ Status Means Never Having to Say Goodbye.”

“The Liberians’ latest ‘temporary’ status is set to expire at the end of March, and there’s a campaign afoot to get it extended. I’ll eat my hat if the president doesn’t give them what they want.”

In an effort to avoid having this conversation again, Ellison, Klobuchar and others have signed on to legislation that would allow Liberian refugees to claim permanent resident status.

“We need to have some permanency for these folks,” Ellison said, calling it his “number one issue after health care.”

How likely are those bills to pass? The Senate version Klobuchar signed on to has been introduced each session since 1998, each time getting sent to committee and eventually dying. The latest measure has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for almost a full year now.

All that is to say that, unless something radically changes, we’ll be having this debate again next year. And the fate of 1,000 would-be Minnesotans will once again hang in the balance.

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