Trump extends humanitarian program for Liberian immigrants
By JENNIFER McDERMOTT and JEFF BAENEN
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - President Donald Trump on Thursday signed a one-year extension of a humanitarian program that allows Liberians to live and work in the U.S., days before it was set to end.
The White House issued a memo from Trump about the program for immigrants who came from the African nation to escape environmental disasters, the Ebola virus and war. The protected status for thousands of Liberians had been set to expire Sunday, which would have put them at risk for deportation.
The Republican president decided last year to end the program, dating to 2007. He said then that it wasn't needed because conditions in Liberia have improved. Trump now says that "upon further reflection and review," he has decided it's in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend a "wind-down period" for the program for an additional year.
Their re-integration "into Liberian civil and political life will be a complex task, and an unsuccessful transition could strain United States-Liberian relations and undermine Liberia's post-civil war strides toward democracy and political stability," he wrote in the memo.
Minnesota has one of the largest populations of Liberians. The executive director of African Immigrant Services in Minnesota said that Liberians are happy and excited about the one-year extension.
Abdullah Kiatamba, who chaired a national campaign to extend the program for Liberians, said Thursday that Liberians "are surviving a huge storm that would have paralyzed our community, that would have separated families, that would have caused so many problems in our community."
Kiatamba calls it not only a "huge victory" for Liberians, but for all immigrants across the U.S., considering the Trump administration's stance on immigration.
If the program hadn't been extended, Kiatamba said, Liberians' driver's licenses could have been revoked in many states and they could have lost income, housing and medical insurance. Since many Liberians are health care workers, patients could have lost their caregivers, he added.
Two civil rights organizations sued in Boston this month on behalf of 15 Liberian immigrants as the deadline drew near. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Lawyers for Civil Rights argued that the decision to end the program is unconstitutional and based on race, ethnicity and national origin, and would break apart families. The program protects about 4,000 Liberian immigrants, the organizations said.
A coalition of attorneys general filed a brief Monday supporting the Liberian immigrants.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed praised the extension but said Congress should enact a more permanent legislative resolution.
The Rhode Island Democrat has been leading an effort for years to pass a bill to provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for qualifying Liberians. Rhode Island has one of the largest populations of Liberians per capita.
"On a divisive issue like immigration, I appreciate this positive step by President Trump," Reed said in a statement Thursday. "It's good news for eligible Liberians, for Rhode Island and our workforce. But it is only temporary relief when what we real need is a permanent fix that puts these law-abiding taxpayers on a path to full citizenship."
Baenen reported from Minneapolis.
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