“Thank you for listening to my story. Thank you for caring about this story,” Linda Clark told the three cameramen, two photographers, and one TV news reporter in the conference room of a downtown Minneapolis office building Tuesday afternoon.
Clark had been part of an immigration roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Fifth District, and when she finished telling her story to the few gathered members of the media — about living in war-torn and poverty-stricken Liberia, coming to the United States to start a new life, and how it could all come to an end in a month, the sound of her words and the seriousness of the situation hit her. She stopped talking, slowly and quietly gathered herself, and wept.
Tears fell down Clark’s cheeks as she turned away from the strangers and to members of her family, some of whom, like Clark, are facing potential deportation under President Donald Trump’s threat to do away with the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) policy that has allowed Clark and other Liberians to live and work and raise families in the United States since 2007. If the edict goes through, it could mean the deportation of hundreds if not thousands of the estimated 30,000 Liberians living in Minnesota — including Clark.
“I left because we had 15 years of civil war in the country, and people are always struggling,” said Clark after the roundtable. “We are always struggling for jobs, and struggling to feed our family. I had the opportunity to come here, hoping that if I come I would help my family to come with me afterwards. And when I came here, the whole situation … . You know, when you come you have all your plans about everything: I will work and fend for my family. And when you come it’s another story. The legal process of it all, you’re not really aware of until you get here.”
Minnesota is home to more Liberians outside of Liberia than anywhere else. Clark, 50, lives in north Minneapolis with her mother and two of her brothers. She has worked at Wells Fargo for 14 years, currently as an account resolution specialist.
In addition to hosting the immigration roundtable (brought together to, per Omar, “talk about the deep pain and suffering this administration is brininging to immigrants”), as a way of shining a spotlight on DED awareness, Omar asked Clark to accompany her to Trump’s State of the Union speech in Washington on Feb. 5.
“It felt special,” said Clark of her trip to the nation’s Capitol. “It was exciting, because it was like a privilege that a lot of people don’t get, and I was happy that I got the opportunity to witness that with her and to share my story, as well. We did a couple of interviews about DED and my status right now, and I appreciate me having the platform to explain my story. Hopefully Congress will hear our stories again, and they will discuss it and find a way for us to have permanent residency.”
“Linda is exactly the type of American success story we should celebrate — someone who came to this country seeking a better life, played by the rules, and built a life for herself,” Omar said after the roundtable Tuesday afternoon. “I was pleased to have her join me at the State of the Union and urge the Trump administration to renew DED status for Liberian Americans. The president himself has expressed open hatred towards people fleeing what he calls ‘shithole countries’ like Liberia and Haiti and now he is acting on it. I hope after hearing the stories of people directly impacted he can at long last find some empathy.”
“I get emotional when I talk about it all the time,” said Clark, who has called Minneapolis home for the last 19 years. “So I talk about it when my friends bring it up, because I have a lot of friends who are on DED, and I just tell them I’m hopeful. I pray that our prayers will be answered. You know, 19 years is not something to say ‘temporary.’ It’s permanent now, for 19 years.
“No more temporary if you feel somewhere is like a home. This place we call our home, living here. We moved here 19 years ago in civil war in the middle of a hurricane, and everything wiped out, and you don’t have anything, and come to another place to make a home and you don’t have anything, you don’t have a job or anything going there, too. And then …
“We don’t have health care solutions in Liberia. Here in the United States, we have annual check ups. Every year. We don’t have something like that in Liberia. Your country has not come to that place where they can accept 40,000 or so citizens going back to Liberia, so that’s why I am doing all things to ask [Trump] to try, in his own way, if he can to give permanent residency to us.”
Minnesota lawmakers are trying to help. The same day the immigration roundtable took place in Minneapolis, a letter in Washington, D.C., to Trump signed by Omar, Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips and Collin Peterson implored:
“Our state of Minnesota has one of the largest Liberian populations in the country. Many have lived in our state for decades as business owners, teachers, and health care workers. They have contributed to the cultural and economic strength of our state. Forcing Liberians to return to an unstable country will not only risk their safety, but will also separate families, harm communities, and disrupt local economies. It is for this reason that we ask you to extend the DED protection for Liberians now in effect before they expire at the end of March.”
With Trump’s March 31 deadline fast approaching, the local Liberian community launched “DED Awareness Month” at the beginning of February, which included a resolution penned by state Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin, and a “state of emergency” Liberian immigration rally to be held Friday at the state Capitol. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
“If Trump doesn’t extend DED what happens depends upon what the person’s situation was before they acquired DED,” said Michelle Rivero, director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) in Minneapolis. “If the person had an existing removal order, they could be served a notice to present themselves before ICE to be removed/deported. If the person was never in immigration court proceedings, they could be issued a notice to appear in immigration court to start removal (deportation) proceedings. It is important for impacted people, if they have not already done so, to meet with a competent immigration attorney to understand their options. There are legal clinics that take place weekly in the Twin Cities area. If people don’t know where to go they can check out the OIRA webpage or call my office.
“If DED is extended, an announcement will be made providing instructions on how to renew. So far no news about the deadline, although the Liberian community is mobilizing on a local, state and national level to raise awareness of the injustice of forcing people who have resided in and contributed to the U.S. for decades to return to Liberia and motivate our government to act.”
One of those ways of raising awareness will be the “state of emergency” rally happening Friday (1 p.m.) at the state Capitol.
Clark will be there.
“We’re hoping that we’ll be joined by our American friends,” she said. “We’re inviting everybody to help us, to go there, so our voices will be heard. I’m sure the media will be there to publicize it and everything like that. DED awareness is our hope and all we want is permanent residency, so at least we can have the access, for example, for me to go see my son.
“I have a son in Liberia. I left him when he was 2 years old; he’s 21 now. I haven’t seen him, not because of the technology — we Facetime and such and such — but because the way it is now, I could go to Liberia now, but I won’t be able to come back because I don’t have the status that would let me in and out.
“So that would be a way for me to be able to see him. But come March 31, if it’s cut off … I won’t be able to support him. Those are the things that are on the mind all the time.”