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With Trump deadline on Liberian immigrants’ status looming, February declared ‘DED Awareness Month’

“All hands on deck,” Liberian community leader Erasmus Williams implored a crowd of about 50 Friday evening at the Liberian Community Center in Brooklyn Park.

It’s been almost one year since President Donald Trump ordered an end to special legal status for certain immigrants from Liberia, and with that March 31 deadline fast approaching, the Minnesota Liberian community — the largest Liberian population outside of war-torn and poverty-stricken Liberia — is sounding the alarm.

“All hands on deck,” Liberian community leader Erasmus Williams implored a crowd of about 50 Friday evening at the Liberian Community Center in Brooklyn Park, where state Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin, and others spoke about the urgency of the situation. Trump has threatened to end the program, called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), which has allowed natives of the West African country to live and work 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.

“Today, we are here to witness history,” Williams told the gathered dreamers and would-be new Americans. “A history that we look forward to being duplicated by all states throughout the United States. And we know if this duplication takes place, definitely our result will come sooner than later. Last night, we had a very good teleconference with member chapters across the United States. So everything you see going on in Minnesota now, pretty soon you will hear people in Iowa having a meeting, people in Philadelphia having a meeting, seeing what they can do. With just a little faith, we can get it done.”

“We’ve been talking about how we do something to get the door open so people take notice,” Hoffman told the crowd. “And the first thing is to do a simple resolution, and that’s what I did — a simple resolution. One little resolution can open the doorway for other activities to happen, and the work that’s been done on this says to Congressman [Dean] Phillips and the other congressional leaders, ‘Look, in Minnesota, the state Senate says this is wrong and this is what we want to happen.’”

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(In a separate act of support for Liberian immigrants facing potential deportation, another of Minnesota’s  congressional representatives, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Fifth District, announced Monday morning that her guest at Tuesday’s State of the Union address will be Linda Clark, a Liberian immigrant from Minnesota.)

Hoffman presented a resolution signed by members of the Minnesota Senate requesting an extension of DED, and last week the City of Brooklyn Park declared February “DED Awareness Month,” which includes a rally on Feb. 22. MinnPost took in the resolution reading and meeting, which was carried live on television in Liberia, in words and photos:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Joel Reeves: “I made these signs (asking Trump to extend Deferred Enforced Departure and Temporary Protected Status rights) to let the president know that we’re very concerned. I’m actually a U.S. citizen, and my family is very much impacted by Deferred Enforced Departure, and we know that he has power to extend and reinstate DED, so we want to let him know that we’re pleading to him. This is very important to our community here in the Twin Cities, this is very important to Minnesota, this is very important to the United States of America, because these are people. People with jobs, working-class people. Some of these people have been in this country for 27 years; I’m 27 years old, I’ve been here my entire life. Families will be affected in the thousands, so we just want to plead to President Trump to please extend DED.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Liberians in Minnesota community members gathered at the Liberian Community Center in Brooklyn Park on Feb. 1.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Georgette Gray, executive director, Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM): “We met with [Rep.] Dean Phillips (on Jan. 28), and it went very well. We are very pleased to know that he is trying and pushing and making some connections to help us extend DED for our people, and also there are other bills in Congress that they’re pushing to create a pathway for citizenship for a lot of others. Minnesota has a very large Liberian community, so Minnesota always sets the trend. We are [promoting] DED Awareness Month with other Liberian organizations down to other states and hoping other states will follow suit and create DED awareness in their states as well.

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“As a community leader, it is very, very difficult. We have families who have lived here for over 25 years, with kids in college, high school, elementary school. They are the breadwinners for these children. In some cases, we have both mom and dad affected by this, and you have to ask what happens to the children? It’s very worrisome. It’s critical. We get phone calls all the time, we get people walking into our office crying, not knowing what’s going to happen. But we are trusting God first, and we are holding our congressmen and women to it, hoping they will push it. It’s a very rocky road, but we’re hopeful that something will happen; we’re praying something will happen.”   

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Liberians in Minnesota community members started the meeting at the Liberian Community Center in Brooklyn Park on Feb. 1 with a prayer.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Liberians in Minnesota community members started the meeting with a prayer.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Erasmus Williams, chairman of immigration, Organization of Liberians in Minnesota: “Most of the schools in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are largely populated with Liberian kids, and most of the kids’ parents are on DED and TPS. It’s more important than you can imagine. If you talk about the amount of people impacted, all of them have kids. All of those kids are United States citizens, and all of those kids are underage. They don’t have any relatives to be left with, OK? These people are taxpayers, working people, they don’t cause any trouble, all of them came to this country through a legal point of entry, all of them came to this country with the consent of the United States government. Because of the war in [Liberia], America has become their home — not just for them, but for their family and their kids.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Abraham Brima Bah, chairman, Organization of Liberians in Minnesota: “Our people who are affected with DED have American-born children, and if their parents are taken away from them, that will affect them economically and deprive most of them of their school. That is why we are appealing to the president, Donald Trump, so that he can reinstate DED for maybe three years and hopefully that will lead to permanency for Liberians affected by DED. We’ve organized these events, and we’re hoping by God’s grace things will work out, hoping the various congress people we spoke with, and other lawmakers, will push our case, because our case is unique. Most Liberians came to this country legally. They work in various institutions in this country, and contribute with small businesses running, and so we are appealing to the president because he is the only one who can extend DED.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Minnesota Sen. John Hoffman read the Senate resolution that he had written.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

State Sen. John Hoffman shook hands with Erasmus Williams of Organization of Liberians in Minnesota after reading the Senate resolution urging Minnesota leaders to persuade President Trump to extend DED and TPS.