Smith, Klobuchar say long fight to successfully ensure pathway to citizenship for Liberians in the U.S. won in National Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that following years of advocacy and leadership to extend permanent residency status to Liberians, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision to allow eligible Liberians living in the United States currently on the temporary immigration status of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to continue living legally in the U.S. and get on a pathway to earning U.S. citizenship, has passed the Senate. The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week and after Senate passage now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. 

“Our work to secure a path to citizenship for eligible Liberians here in America is one step closer to finally becoming law,” Klobuchar said. “There has been a vibrant Liberian community in Minnesota for decades, and they are an important part of our state, where they serve as business owners, teachers, and health care workers. This hard fought step toward permanent citizenship is well-deserved for this community that has worked hard and played by the rules.”

“We fought—alongside brave community members who made their voices heard—to extend humanitarian protections for Liberians because these people deserve the opportunity to become American citizens,” Smith said. “Creating a pathway to citizenship is a historic step for Congress, and it’s the right step for us to take for Liberian families in Minnesota and across America.”

Klobuchar has been urgently requesting that the Administration extend these protections for Liberians. Since 2007, Klobuchar has cosponsored the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, led by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), which would allow eligible Liberians to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a pathway to citizenship. The provision in NDAA is based on that legislation. She has also cosponsored the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, which would allow qualified Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and DED recipients to apply for legal permanent residency, since it was first introduced in 2017. 

Smith started fighting for the Liberian community as soon as she joined the Senate in 2018. In January 2018, Smith joined Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in sending a letter to the Trump Administration asking him to extend DED protections. Smith then cosponsored Senator Reed’s Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, to provide a pathway to citizenship for qualifying Liberians. Smith continued the fight in early 2019, when she penned an op-ed in the Star Tribune calling on the administration to extend DED protections. After months of continued pressure on the White House, Senator Smith suggested a strategy to move the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act through Congress. Smith urged Senator Reed to introduce an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill offering protections for Liberians. Smith and Reed ultimately co-led this amendment, passing into law a pathway to citizenship for eligible Liberians.

Klobuchar has also emphasized the need to extend Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) to Administration officials and Senate leaders. Klobuchar and Smith sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in March urging him to allow the Senate to consider legislation to extend protected status for Liberian recipients of DED. In February, Klobuchar, Smith, and U.S. Representatives Angie Craig (D-MN), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Collin Peterson (D-MN) sent a letter to President Trump asking him to extend protected status for Liberians in the United States, allowing recipients to remain in the country legally and receive work authorization. One month later, in March, the Administration announced a one-year extension of DED for Liberians.

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