Liberians celebrate a new path to U.S. citizenship

Photo by Brad Sigal Members of the local Liberian community danced in celebration of the approval of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

On Saturday night January 4, members of the Liberian community living in Minnesota, and their friends and allies, had much to celebrate. When the U.S. Senate approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on December 17, sponsors such as the Black Immigrant Collective and The Advocates for Human Rights helped members of the community throw a party in Brooklyn Park.

The Act includes an amendment offering a path to American citizenship for Liberians who hold a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status. When Linda Clark, who has been in the U.S. with her mother for 19 years, got the news that it had passed and become law, “I cried and gave thanks to the Lord.” She explained what a great relief it had been and how the stress of having to go through the vetting process every March had caused her to develop high blood pressure.

Some of those attending the Brooklyn Park celebration and speaking were political figures such as U.S. Representative Dean Phillips, who stated, “This is by far and away the most important move in my career in Congress.” U.S. Senator Tina Smith called our immigration situation a crisis and said she had been moved to tears by stories from DED holders.

Many other representatives and political figures such as Rep. Omar, Sen. Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz sent letters to be read at the event, stating to have heard and listened to the call of Minnesotans who didn’t want to lose their friends, family and coworkers.

Photo by Brad Sigal DED holders, allies and friends celebrate in Brooklyn Park

A prayer by Reverend James N. Wilson provided a bit of history about the Liberian Civil War that brought many in the room to the U.S. in the late 1980s and ’90s. Between speeches, the DJ spun Liberian dance music. As they approached the stage, some speakers danced and sang along.

Many speakers were indirectly affected by the law as people who have seen the positive effect that Liberian immigrants are having on Minnesota, whether through community involvement or through the healthcare services that many provide.

Other more speakers were DED holders and their children who testified about how a pathway to citizenship has given them hope for the future. DED holder Reverend Moses Punni asked his daughter to stand by his side on stage as he spoke and sang to the crowd about how he was now assured he will be able to see his daughter grow up by his side.

Clark told me how DED holders and supporters put together this party to say thank you to the community that supported them. Asked if Pres. Donald Trump was wrong when he twice moved to end Liberian asylum in the U.S., she didn’t hesitate to answer: “He’s wrong.”

Photo by Brad Sigal MN Attorney General Keith Ellison, when in Congress, was instrumental in fighting Liberian citizenship.

The reason why he’s wrong, she continued, “is because our country has been through 50 years of civil war.” She explained the dire situation they would be facing if forced back to Liberia after spending decades living and working in the U.S., returning to a place with no running water or employment. “It’s not that we don’t want to go home, but it’s [Liberia’s] not prepared to take us now.”  

Clark spoke of her heartbreak “every day” over a son she had to leave behind in Liberia when he was only two, who is an adult now. She said that as soon as her citizenship paperwork goes through, she will bring her son to the U.S. All spouses and children under 21 of Liberian nationals who have lived in the U.S. since Nov. 20, 2014, are also eligible for green cards. 

Asked if she felt like a patriotic American as well as a Minnesotan, Clark said, “Definitely… I follow the rules. I live by the laws of this government… We work here. We do everything that a citizen should do. And I’m proud of that. I feel that I’m as American as anyone.”