Liberians Face Looming Deportation Deadline as Episcopal Leaders Join Calls for Leniency
By David Paulsen
[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians are voicing support for thousands of Liberians who face a deadline to leave the United States under a Trump administration policy change. Calls for leniency are particularly strong in Minnesota, which is said to have the largest Liberian immigrant population in the country.
The program is known as Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, which allows certain groups that lack legal residency status to remain in the United States, typically because conditions in their home countries hinder their return. President Donald Trump chose to end that protection for about 4,000 Liberians, effective March 31, 2019, dismissing concerns about the lingering effects of Liberia’s civil war and an Ebola outbreak there.
“Because of the war, Liberia is not ready to take a large number of returnees,” said the Rev. James Wilson, priest in charge at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Wilson and several members of his congregation are from Liberia. They now are U.S. citizens and aren’t affected directly by the looming end to DED protection, but they and others in the Liberian community of Minnesota have stepped up their advocacy for a change in federal policy because of the trauma that deportations could cause other Liberian families.
“It would bring about family separation,” Wilson said, noting that some Liberians have been establishing roots in the United States for decades and now have children who are U.S. citizens. “Who are they going to stay with? Who’s going to look after them? And this is going to create a kind of community problem.”
Liberia is the only country whose nationals are allowed to remain in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure, which is authorized at the president’s discretion. This protection is similar to the more common Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which is an immigration status granted by the Department of Homeland Security to certain people already in the United States who are deemed unable to return to one of a designated list of home countries because of armed conflict, environmental disasters or other dangers.
Ten countries currently are on the TPS list, though the Trump administration has tried to eliminate that protection for hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, among others. Those TPS terminations are on hold while they are being contested in federal court.
“The Episcopal Church supports the Dream and Promise Act, which would offer long-term protections and a pathway to citizenship for DED recipients, TPS holders, and Dreamers,” Lacy Broemel, a policy adviser for the church’s Office of Government Relations, said in an email. The church’s Episcopal Public Policy Network issued a policy alert this week asking members to contact lawmakers and voice support for that legislation.
“The decision to terminate DED will have lasting impacts on local communities and families,” Broemel said. “DED recipients who are valued members of local communities should have an opportunity to seek permanent status rather than being forced to return to countries they may have left decades prior.”
The Episcopal Church has historical ties with the Episcopal Church of Liberia, which was a diocese of the U.S.-based church until it became part of the Anglican Province of West Africa in 1980. In 2010, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori traveled to Liberia for a weeklong visit. The Episcopal Church continues to support the Episcopal Church of Liberia financially based on a decades-old covenant between the two churches.