About 1,000 Liberians in Minnesota get 18-month reprieve on departure

WASHINGTON — About 1,000 Liberians in Minnesota will be allowed to stay in the United States for at least another 18 months, after President Obama today postponed their enforced departure date through the end of September 2011.

“Pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States, I have determined that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to defer for 18 months the removal of any Liberian national, or person without nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia, who is present in the United States and who is under a grant of (Deferred Enforced Departure) as of March 31, 2010,” Obama wrote.

“Granting Liberians extended DED status is the right decision,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. “The Liberian Community has become an important part of the social fabric of Minnesota — they are our neighbors and our co-workers. While we continue to pursue a permanent solution, it is important that Liberians who are here legally can continue to call Minnesota home.”

Sen. Al Franken praised the action, too. “I’m thrilled that President Obama has responded so positively to our request for a reprieve,” he said. “This is a major victory for those Liberian families who have called Minnesota home for almost two decades.”

The fate of the Liberian refugees has become an almost annual question, though they’ve always been allowed to stay.

There are about 25,000 Liberians living in Minnesota, according to the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota.

Here’s some background on the situation in that country from our earlier coverage:

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, 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.

Legislation to permanently extend their stay in the United States has been introduced in every session for more than a decade now. Again this year, as in all the years before, it remains stuck in committee.

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