‘I screamed:' Liberians in Minnesota celebrate after Trump gives reprieve

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday extending protections for thousands of Liberians, meaning they can remain in the U.S. for at least another year.

The president’s announcement on the Deferred Enforced Departure program was sudden, and happened just days before Liberians who are not U.S. citizens faced possible deportation.

Minnesota was one of several states applying pressure to the Trump administration by supporting a lawsuit filed by Liberians. About 16,000 Liberians live in Minnesota – one of the largest Liberian communities in the country – and about one-fourth benefit from the federal protections.

“I thought somebody was pulling my leg first, and then I screamed. Then, in like five minutes, I called about 20 people,” Isabella Wrehfofana, one of the protected Liberians living in Minnesota, said of learning the president’s decision. “I’m happy, but there’s still fear, because every year is the same thing.”

The U.S. first extended the temporary protections in 1991 as people fled a civil war in Liberia. The protections were scheduled to expire on Sunday.

President Trump said in his executive order that the situation in West Africa remains “concerning.” Reintegrating the people into Liberian civil and political life will be complicated and an unsuccessful transition could strain relations between the U.S. and Liberia, he said.

“Upon further reflection and review, I have decided that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend the wind-down period for an additional 12 months, through March 30, 2020,” the president wrote.

Minnesota Democrats, including Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, had planned a news conference for Thursday afternoon to call for an extension of the protections. The event turned into a small celebration after the president’s announcement, but Walz and Ellison said the protections should become permanent.

“I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans who believe that a permanent solution, a congressional solution, is the right thing,” Ellison told reporters. “We just need the moment to get a vote, and I think it would happen.”

Ellison and attorneys general from nine states and the District of Columbia filed a court brief this week supporting Liberians in their lawsuit seeking to extend the protections.