WHY WE ARE HERE
Aba Hamilton Dolo of Coon Rapids might have some tough decisions to make next month. Washington Yonly, who lives in Brooklyn Park, is anxious about his future as well.
Both face deportation to their home country of Liberia on March 31.
Emmanuel Dolo, Aba’s husband, is a permanent resident of the United States. So is her 15-year-old son, Phillip. Their 4-year-old daughter, Bijoux, is a U.S. citizen. If Dolo is deported, the Dolos say there is no good solution to the choices they must make for the family.
Yonly has lived in the United States since the early ’90s. At 58, he says he is worried about facing the prospect of returning to a country that is so different than the one he left.
“The infrastructure is destroyed,” he said. “There are no jobs. Many of the houses no longer stand.”
Dolo and Yonly are among a group of about 1,000 Liberians who have been living in the United States as temporary residents. Their status is classified as “Deferred Enforced Departure” (DED). Previously, they and thousands of other Liberians had been given “Temporary Protective Status” to live in the United States because of the civil war in Liberia that began in 1989.
The war continued until elections were finally held in 2005. But Liberians in the United States say that the country has yet to recover after two decades of strife and should not be considered safe for people to return to. In September of 2007, President George W. Bush directed Michael Chertoff, then secretary of Homeland Security, to take this into consideration and defer enforced deportation for 18 months — until March 31, 2009.
Dolo, Yonly and many others, including Kerper Dwanyen, president of the Organization for Liberians in Minnesota, say they believe that conditions in Liberia have still not improved enough for those in exile to return. They are asking President Obama and Congress to extend their status as well as work toward a path for permanent legalization for those in this situation.
Dolo’s return to Liberia would not benefit the United States or Liberia, she said. If she takes her American masters degree and professional skills back to Liberia, she said, the United States would be losing a hard-working, tax-paying, productive member of the community.
“I would go back and be unemployed in a country that’s not ready to accept me back,” she said.
Not only that, she added, but there are 20 to 30 people in Liberia who depend on money she sends back from here that would have to manage on even less than they have now.
Many Liberians on DED status have been here for upwards of 15 years, some more than 20 years if they were in the country on student visas when the civil war broke out. Like Dolo, most have family members here who are U.S. citizens or have permanent resident status.
Dwanyen says they have been in this country too long to be expected to pack up and immediately return to Liberia.
Liberia, Dwanyen said, is not stable: “Unemployment is between 80 and 85 percent. Less than 5 percent of the country enjoys stable electricity. The health care situation is totally in ruins. The educational system is still in ruins. The security situation is very, very tenuous. For that reason, we’re saying it’s not humane to send people back.”
But Dwanyen argues that even if the nation was stable, “the fact that people have lived here for 18 years — at some point the mind decides to move on. And even if they haven’t moved on mentally, their children that were born here have no idea what Liberia is and it’s uprooting them to a country they don’t know. That’s the humanitarian and family unification aspect of this.”
In this video, Minnesota residents Aba Hamilton Dolo and Washington Yonly and Kerper Dwanyen, president of the Organization for Liberians in Minnesota, describe conditions in Liberia. This report is part of an ongoing MinnPost video series — called “Why We Are Here” — about immigrants who tell why they left home and came to Minnesota.