Thousands of Liberians came to the United States running away from not one, but two civil wars that killed 250,000 people and displaced close to one million. The years of political unrest in the 1990’s completely destroyed my country’s economic infrastructure. Since the last internal conflict that ended in 2003, the West African nation has struggled to recover. To make matters worse, in 2014 and 2015 it experienced a deadly Ebola outbreak.
DED beneficiaries have literally nothing to go back to if they are deported. This is why Liberians are shocked that Donald Trump has decided to extend the humanitarian program known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). With the decision to end the program over the next twelve months, thousands of families in communities like mine who have made Staten Island our home, will lose their legal status and become Trump’s new targets for deportation.
At least 8,000, and probably many more, Liberian immigrants live in Staten Island’s Park Hill, Clifton, and Stapleton neighborhoods, making the Borough one of the areas with greatest concentration of Liberians outside of Africa. In fact, Park Hill Avenue in Clifton, is often referred to as Little Liberia. There are thousands of tenants and homeowners who work hard to support their families and losing DED means losing it all.
I’m a proud Staten Islander who came to this country in 1985 and have had the good fortune to have been able to become a US citizen. But many of my fellow Liberian friends and neighbors, who fled civil war a decade later in our native land, have never had that opportunity. Many of my relatives have DED, and they have been here for decades. New York is home for all of us now; I can’t imagine them being taken from us, and having our family torn apart.
It’s devastating to see my community fall prey to Trump’s hostile and racist anti-immigration agenda—the same agenda that led him to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Central Americans, Haitians, Liberians, and more; and ramp up immigration raids that terrorize families across the country.
The DED program has offered legal status, work permits and a safe place to stay for nearly 5,000 Liberian immigrants who escaped violence.
DED’s extension fell solely on the president’s discretion. But, instead of showing sensitivity to the needs of my community—and an appreciation for the contributions we have made to this country—he has chosen to attack us.
Liberians like me—in Staten Island, and across this country—are hard-working people, homeowners, and, in many cases, the parents of U.S.-born children. If they are sent back to Liberia, it would also mean the country would lose the remittances sent to relatives a stream of funding that is critical to recovery of the nation.
Congress must also act to provide a permanent solution for Liberian and other TPS holders.
We are encouraged by the initiatives of Congress Members like Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). They have introduced multiple bills looking to protect Liberians and offer a path to citizenship, including the American Promise Act and the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act.
But the clock is ticking. Trump has failed the Liberian community. We need Congress to break through the gridlock and solve the latest crisis he has created.
Jennifer Brumskine-Gray is a Liberian immigrant and a community organizer with Make the Road NY, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY