Thousands of Liberians in U.S. Face Deportation

More than 3,000 Liberians in the United States face possible deportation because they are here under what is called "Temporary Protective Status" — a designation that is due to expire in less than a year. Many are hoping to stay. The uncertainty is troubling for the sizeable Liberian population in Providence, R.I.

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Many immigrants to the U.S. from the West African nation of Liberia could soon be forced to return home. The federal government has announced that Liberians with a temporary immigration status must leave by next fall.

Reporter Nancy Cook of member station WRNI introduces us to some Liberians in Providence, Rhode Island, who don't want to go. They have homes here and they have children who are American citizens.

NANCY COOK: Providence's west side is home to one of the country's largest Liberian populations. It's been this way since the early 1990s when Liberians fled due to civil war.

(Soundbite of music)

COOK: At a fundraiser for a Liberian church, about 100 people are singing and dancing. They're trying to raise money for their own building, rather than just renting space. But not all of them will be around to see the results.

Ms. JUDY JOHNSON-MUSA: A lot of people have been talking about is all like sitting on a time bomb waiting. You don't when - I mean, you know, October is right around the corner.

COOK: Judy Johnson-Musa has lived in Rhode Island for 16 years. She works as a mental health counselor and she and her husband own their home. Her 10-year-old son is an American citizen, but she's not.

Ms. JOHNSON-MUSA: My son said mommy, can I share my citizenship with you guys?

COOK: Johnson-Musa is one of 3,600 Liberians nationwide that the Department of Homeland Security says will have to leave when their immigration status -called temporary protected status - expires. The U.S. government says Liberia is now stable, so people can go home.

Unidentified Woman: You want that (unintelligible) too? All right.

COOK: Liberians debate the stability over lunch at Alia's, where workers serve heaping scoops of jollof rice. Restaurant owner Eleanor Beagay(ph) is a permanent resident, but she has family members that are not. She thinks her country is still in shambles.

Ms. ELEANOR BEAGAY: They're sitting at home right now - somebody - and they have no homes to go to. Their houses were destroyed. Their newly elected president just trying to bring electricity and water. Got people that over there right now, they don't even have jobs.

COOK: The Department of Homeland Security says that Liberians shouldn't have expected to stay forever. Temporary protected status is only for people who have to leave their countries because of war or natural disasters. A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Shawn Saucier, explains.

Mr. SHAWN SAUCIER (U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services): It is temporary. It allows them to stay in the United States and gives them this temporary status to remain in the United States and work in the United States until those temporary conditions in their home country are resolved and it's safe for them to return.

COOK: Liberians won't be the first immigrants forced home. Over the last several years, people from Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Lebanon have had their temporary protected status revoked.

A leader of the local Liberian community group, Saw Un To(ph), says he's not sure the Liberians will go.

Mr. SAW UN TO: A good number of Liberians have said clearly that if TPS was to expire and they were asked to leave, they will not leave, they'll just go underground and, you know, try to duck and dive, you know, in the system. What kind of plans can they make?

COOK: The Rhode Island Liberians are hoping that Congress will pass an immigration bill that would allow people who've been working here for several years to apply for citizenship. If that doesn't happen they have 11 months to make other plans.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cook in Providence.

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