The United States House of Representative has passed a bill that would offer more than 4,000 Liberians on the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program a path to permanent resident status and citizenship.
According to US News, the bill, National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed on December 12, 2019, includes his provision to allow eligible Liberians to continue living legally in the U.S. and apply for citizenship.
If passed by the senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the bill would bring relief to thousands of Liberians who have lived in the United States temporarily for decades under the DED without an opportunity to pursue citizenship.
The DED is a humanitarian program that protects approximately 4,000 Liberian immigrants in the United States. It has over the past two decades been renewed by both Republican and Democrat administrations because of environmental disasters and armed conflict in Liberia.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who helped to champion the provision in the nation’s annual defense policy bill, said that the move by Congress is intended to provide certainty and security for Liberians while helping foster Liberia’s post-war recovery.
“This is really good news,” said U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. ‘We have been working really hard to get to this point.”
Sen. Smith added that her office has worked closely with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, (D-R.I.), to include the language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act “because it’s a must-pass bill.”
According to US media reports, the defense bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Monday, December 16, 2019, and that President Trump has tweeted that he will sign the $738 billion spending package. The House passed the bill Wednesday.
The move by the US House of Representatives to create a pathway for Liberian DED holders to get permanent resident status and citizenship comes as their DED extension expiration date draw nears—March 2020.
The extension, which was given by President Trump, came just days before their deportation deadline on March 31, 2019.
Although President Trump administration approved a one-year reprieve, he had twice moved to end the program, noting that conditions in Liberia had improved because it is no longer experiencing armed conflicts and had recovered from a 2014 outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
The measure by the US House of Representative also comes less than three months after Liberians on DED lost a case against President Trump’s decision to terminate their DED status by March 2020 at the District Court of Massachusetts.
The District Court Judge, Timothy S. Hillman, opined that the extension of the program is the prerogative of the President and not the Court, thereby dismissing the case.
“While the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have suffered an injury, in fact, the Court, unfortunately, sees no way to redress that injury. In order to renew DED, the President must take affirmative action, and this Court cannot compel the President to take that action under the circumstances of this case. Thus, the Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss,” the Judge ruled.
The case was jointly filed by The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Lawyers for Civil Rights. The lawsuit, the first of its kind in the country, was filed on behalf of African Communities Together (ACT), the UndocuBlack Network, and fifteen affected individuals, including Liberians raising U.S. citizen children.