President Trump on Thursday extended a little-known temporary immigration program for Liberians who have lived in the United States lawfully since at least 2002. The move came just days before the protection would have expired, leaving more than 800 long-term residents subject to deportation.
The 12-month extension to the Deferred Enforced Departure program was announced in a memorandum on the White House website Thursday, a reversal after Trump declared a year ago that he would not continue the nominally temporary reprieve that previous presidents, Republicans and Democrats, had routinely extended.
“Upon further reflection and review, I have decided that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend the wind-down period for an additional 12 months,” the Trump statement said. “. . . Extending the wind-down period will preserve the status quo while the Congress considers remedial legislation.”
The decision was welcomed by DED holders, some of whom have lived in the country legally for as long as three decades and have children who are U.S. citizens.
“I am very relieved,” Afomu Kelley, a DED holder in Greenbelt, Md., wrote in a text message. “It may be a year’s reprieve, but that’s time to work something out.”
Critics of the program say it is a misuse of the president’s executive authority and has outlived its original intent, to protect refugees escaping a temporary crisis.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors restricted immigration, said the extension “is indicative of how feckless our approach to immigration is.”
“I could live with giving them all green cards instead of extending DED,” he said, “but only if we take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Congress must now decide whether to grant permanent status to this group of Liberians. Multiple bills have been introduced in the House to give the immigrants a path to permanent residency, including bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday by Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
“I am thrilled for our Liberian community,” Phillips wrote in a statement after Trump’s announcement. “They are our family and deserve admiration for their relentless fight for this DED extension. The White House has been responsive and helpful throughout this process, and I am grateful to President Trump for hearing our voices and taking action.”
Yet advocates of DED holders noted that this is not the first time the program has been allowed to nearly expire before an 11th-hour extension.
“This is a welcome but temporary fix,” said Royce Murray, managing director of programs at the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group. “We need to turn our attention to a long-term solution.”
What Afomu Kelley has been struggling with as she awaited the government’s decision.