Liberians in Rhode Island rejoiced last month at news that refugees from the West African country would be granted an additional 12 months of amnesty in the United States, thanks to an executive order signed by President Obama.
Mator Kpangbai, former president of the Liberian Association of Rhode Island, told the Providence Journal on March 21 that Obama's decision was "great news," adding that the order provided another opportunity for many Liberians to renew their case for permanent legal status.
The measure protects 3,600 Liberian-Americans living under the temporary status. More than 250,000 Liberians live in the United States, and Rhode Island has the highest concentration of Liberians per capita of any state, with a population estimated between 7,000 and 15,000.
In 1991, the United States granted amnesty, formally known as temporary protected status, to Liberians who were forced to flee the West African nation during civil war. Though the conflict ended in 2003, and the period of amnesty officially ended in October 2007, President Bush extended the rights of Liberians to remain in the U.S. through the end of last month.
Last month, Obama decided to continue the official pardon — a grant of deferred enforced departure — for an additional 12 months.
"I have determined that there are compelling foreign policy reasons to extend (deferred enforced departure) to those Liberians presently residing in the United States under the existing grant," Obama said in a press release last month.
Rhode Island Democrats Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Jack Reed lauded the decision.
"This measure will ensure that the hard-working Liberian-Americans in Rhode Island and across the country will be able to remain in the United States. They have contributed to our society for more than a decade, becoming active members of our communities and providing for their families," Kennedy said in a press release. "I am pleased that the president has acted to preserve their status here, preventing a grave injustice."
While Reed was supportive of Obama's decision, he also emphasized the importance of guiding Liberian immigrants toward American citizenship — a cause he has worked toward for more than 10 years.
Reed has reintroduced a bill — The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2009 — to grant the Liberians permanent residency.
"Over the last two decades, those who fled Liberia's violent civil wars have become important parts of our communities," he said in a March 20 press release. "They are here legally. They have worked very hard, played by the rules and paid their taxes. They have children who are U.S. citizens, but the parents, who were brought here to escape a brutal civil war, were never given the opportunity to apply for citizenship," Reed said.
"This bill will prevent these families from being torn apart and give them the opportunity to live permanently in the place they love and call home," he added.