April 5, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Supports Legislation to Provide Permanency to Liberian Migrants in the United States

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, April 5, 2011 — Last week, Senator Reed (D-RI) and Representative Ellison (D-MN-5) re-introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2011 (S. 656 / H.R. 1293), legislation that would provide a small, but unique population of Liberian migrants with a pathway to obtain permanency in the United States. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) applauds the re-introduction of this important bill and stands with the Liberian community across the United States in calling on Congress and the Administration to take action as soon as possible.

In 1989, civil war forced thousands of Liberians to flee their home country. Some of them arrived to the United States in search of protection. Since 1991, the United States has provided temporary legal status to Liberian nationals who fled and have been unable to return due to unstable conditions. On March 18, 2010, President Obama signed a memo extending Deferred Enforced Departure to Liberian nationals through September 30, 2011. The extension provided these Liberians with temporary work authorization, but it expires in six months and does not provide them with a new pathway to obtain lawful permanent residency.

If President Obama or Congress does not act before September 30, 2011, these Liberians will be forced to return to Liberia. Living in the United States for over 20 years, Liberians have settled down and started families. Forced repatriation would require parents to make a decision they should never have to make – to leave their children behind or to bring them to an unstable country that is still recovering from a protracted civil war. Richmond Appleton, a former Liberian refugee and member of the LIRS Board of Directors, added, “Here in Minnesota, the Liberian community is vital to the strength and wellbeing of communities across the state. It would be tragic if we could not find a permanent solution to fully welcome them.”

Liberians in the United States own homes, run businesses and work in critical industries. Their forced return would destabilize neighborhoods as homeowners would be forced to abandon their houses. Important industries, such as the home health care profession, have also come to rely on the Liberian workforce. The sudden departure of thousands of workers puts these businesses at risk.

“It is in everyone’s best interest to provide permanency for this group of Liberians,” LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke remarked. “American families will stay intact, the wellbeing of U.S. neighborhoods and businesses will remain stable and vibrant, and the Liberian economy will continue to receive valuable remittances from its countrymen living in the United States.”

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

The September 30, 2010 LIRS statement for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Sudanese refugees can be found here.

The June 17, 2010 LIRS statement for World Refugee Day 2010 can be found here.

The March 18, 2010 President Obama memorandum on Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians can be found here.