ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Hundreds of Liberians rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday to bring attention to a deadline that could change thousands of lives.
By March 31, President Trump must decide whether to extend the deadline for the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program. It is a humanitarian immigration program that has allowed an estimated 4,200 Liberians to escape two successive civil wars in their country. The program was renewed by President George W. Bush and twice by President Obama.
Of the estimated 14,000 Liberians living in Minnesota, many work in the health care profession, caring for the sick and elderly.
Marie B. Zar is a nurse at North Memorial Medical Center who came to Minnesota 18 years ago during Liberia’s second civil war.
“I work here and send money to my people there to survive,” said Zar.
Among the family she sends money to is her 31-year-old son, who she had to leave with relatives when he was only 12.
“I have an only son there, since I came here, I have not seen my son for all these years, because I can’t go back under DED,” said Zar.
In 1822, Liberia was colonized by freed American slaves. Many of the cultural connections remain, like the Liberian flag and its Constitution. The country was scarred by two civil wars and the brutal reign of former President Charles Taylor during which more than a quarter of a million people were killed and thousands of others starved.
Louise Stevens escaped the war 18 years ago. Now, she works at Medtronic, and like thousands of other Liberians, she's built a life in Minnesota.
"I want you guys to know we are Minnesotans lived here 18 years. When I came here from Liberia I came here with one suitcase,” said Stevens.
Even if the March 31 deadline is extended, the future for Liberians remains unclear. Under Deferred Enforced Departure, there is no path to legal status, much less citizenship. They’re always looking over their shoulder at that next deadline. For more information on DED from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, click here.