Good news for Liberian immigrant workers and their families was celebrated at a Minnesota State Capitol news conference this afternoon, a news conference previously scheduled to urge an extension of a March 31 deadline that would have terminated permission for thousands of Liberians to live and work in the United States. Just a few hours earlier, President Donald Trump announced he would extend the Deferred Enforced Departure program for Liberians for one year.
Speakers at the news conference said Trump’s announcement was a welcome reprieve, but that a permanent solution was needed to put Liberian DED holders on a path to permanent residency and citizenship.
“I’m happy this extension is done, but it’s not a permanent solution,” said union member Isabella Wreh-Fotana. She came to the U.S. from Liberia in 2002 and has worked since 2003 as a nursing assistant at United Hospital in Saint Paul, where she is a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. Wreh-Fotana said the stress of living with the repeating uncertainty about DED extensions felt to her like living in a war zone again. “We need a permanent status,” she said.
Minnesota is home to the largest community of Liberians outside Liberia. They came here 20-plus years ago fleeing civil war in their home country and now are firmly rooted in Minnesota with jobs, businesses, homes, and US-born children. Presidents George W. Bush, Barak Obama and now Donald Trump have granted temporary extensions of the Liberians’ DED status, allowing them to live and work in the U.S.
Speakers at the news conference advocating for permanent residency status for Minnesota’s Liberian DED holders included Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation president Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, among others.
The MRLF’s Glaubitz Gabiou commented: “We come together here today as a part of this movement to extend permanent protection — not temporary protection, but permanent protection — to people with DED and TPS status not only because it is the right thing to do for humanitarian protections, but also as advocates for a workforce that lifts up workers and protects their basic rights.”
“Our Liberian neighbors are Minnesotans,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, the Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. “Thousands of Liberians live in the district I represent,” she added. “We need a permanent solution… We can’t have families returning to stress.”
Governor Tim Walz addressed the Liberian community: “You are welcome here. You are needed here. We will stand by you every step of the way.”
“Leadership of people is partnership with people,” commented Alexander Collins, pastor of Redeem Life Church in Mounds View. “Thank you, Minnesota, for standing with us.”
“Until this morning, I was struggling with the question, ‘who is going to put a roof over thousands of children… if their parents are deported?’” said Rev. Francis Tabla, pastor of Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Park. “I just returned from Liberia,” he added. “Things are very tough there.”
“The overall situation in West Africa remains concerning,” said President Trump, in his March 28 “Memorandum on Extension of Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians.”
Trump added, “I understand that there are efforts underway by Members of Congress to provide relief for the small population of Liberian DED beneficiaries who remain in the United States. Extending the wind-down period will preserve the status quo while the Congress considers remedial legislation.”
“This is a reprieve… but the fact of the matter is we need a permanent solution,” commented Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “If we had common-sense immigration reform,” he added, “we would not be in this year-to-year roller coaster ride.”
“The average DED/TPS holder has been in the U.S. 22 years,” Ellison noted. “22 years of having deep roots in our communities.”
Trump’s announcement March 28 came just hours before an emergency federal court hearing to consider a response to a lawsuit filed by Liberians challenging the Trump administration’s move to end DED for Liberians.
Earlier in the week, Ellison’s office, along with attorneys general from eight other states, filed a brief in support of the Liberians’ court challenge.
At the State Capitol news conference, Ellison said he believed Trump’s action to extend DED came to head off what would have been a likely federal court order to stop DED for Liberians from expiring March 31.
Also this week, Minnesota U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith jointly sent a March 27 letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking him to urgently consider legislation to extend the DED protections for Liberians. “Our state of Minnesota has one of the largest Liberian populations in the country,” the Klobuchar-Smith letter noted. “Many of these people have been in our state for decades, and they are an important part of our communities, where they serve as business owners, teachers, and health care workers. They have worked hard, played by the rules, and submitted to rigorous vetting. Uprooting them now would be cruel and harmful to them, their families, their neighbors and their employers.”
Ellison noted at the news conference, “if you have a loved one in a skilled nursing facility, the chances are very good they are being cared for by a Liberian.”
Minnesota Nurses Association president Mary C. Turner said in a statement: “The Minnesota Nurses Association supports Attorney General Keith Ellison’s efforts to protect Minnesota’s Liberian community and their rights. MNA has many Liberian nurse members who provide skilled, experienced care to patients in hospitals and many other healthcare facilities. They are an essential part of our healthcare system, and Minnesota cannot afford to lose them and their valuable contributions to our state and healthcare. Patients would suffer without our Liberian nurses.”