President Trump said on Tuesday he will end a special immigration program that has allowed nearly 4,000 Liberians to legally live and work in the U.S. over the past 25 years.
Liberians will now face a similar situation to thousands of people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan who had their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) terminated by the Trump administration.
They either have to leave the country at the expiration of the deadline or risk becoming undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
Liberians were first granted TPS in March 1991 under former President George H.W. Bush due to armed conflicts that were gripping the country, and starting in 1999, Liberians were transferred into a separate program called Deferred Enforced Departure, a classification that allowed them to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
That status was approved several times by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the country grappled with a civil war, ongoing armed conflicts, and an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
But after consulting with the departments of State and Homeland Security on Tuesday, Trump concluded that those conditions had been largely resolved, giving Liberian immigrants 12 months to get their affairs in order and return to their home country.
“I have been informed that conditions in Liberia have improved,” Trump wrote in a presidential memorandum.
“Liberia is no longer experiencing armed conflict and has made significant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease caused a tragic loss of life and economic damage to the country, but Liberia has made tremendous progress in its ability to diagnose and contain future outbreaks of the disease.”
But Trump’s summary comes with problems for many Liberians who have been integrated into American communities.
Rose Knuckles Bull, a Liberian who has been living in New York under the program, said his years of work for a fire department and a voter registration office will be tossed aside if he’s forced to return to a country he hasn’t seen for nearly a quarter century.
“It would be unfair to force us to return to Liberia without anything, and start all over again at this age,” he said.
Critics of the administration also point out that the decision must be viewed in the context of Trump referring to African nations as “shithole countries.”