Earlier this spring, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay in the United States. Nor were hundreds of Liberian young adults and families. We depend on Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), an executive action that started in 2007 under President George W. Bush as an extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS). It’s been extended ever since for Liberian families because of devastating civil war and health crises in Liberia. The program continues only when any President wants it to, and March 31 was the deadline in 2019. In a political moment as xenophobic as ours, we weren’t optimistic about the outcome.
I came to the United States in 2000, escaping a civil war in Liberia. I came with my daughter, who was two at the time. Now an adult, the United States is the only country she has ever known. This is the story of many Liberian immigrants on DED. We don’t have anywhere to “go back” to. The threat of deportation only puts the health and safety of families and young adults in danger.
I worked with Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), together with other organizations like the UndocuBlack Network, to lead a campaign to fight against the end of DED. We flew to D.C. and met with as many Senators and Representatives as we could, breaking into small groups to cover as much ground as possible. I met many other Liberian immigrants and immigrant families on the Hill and in my group. They all have established families here, homes here, lives here.
Some of the congressional offices recognized us. We had been on Capitol Hill a year ago advocating for the same thing, after all. It wasn’t our first fight. The recognition helped us get taken seriously, and soon I began to feel like we were making progress.
On March 29, the Administration caved to pressure from us and Congress, agreeing to extend DED till March 31 of next year, as “part of a wind down.” I breathed a sigh of relief, but the “wind down” language made me nervous. So we’d be back on the Hill again a year from now, fighting the same fight?
If you haven’t heard of DED until now, I don’t blame you. Immigration in the United States is often understood as an issue that only affects the Latinx community, despite 4 million black immigrants in the United States, including Afro Latinx immigrants. Groups like BAJI, and crises like this, are helping to change the face of deportation a little.
The fight’s not over. It took hard work to get the program extended, and even then the President has only extended DED by a year. It’s clear we need permanent citizenship for Liberian youth and adults so they can stay, work, and live full lives here in the United States. With hard work and people power, we’ll achieve it.