by Ola Salem & Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath
Amid pressure, White House announces it is extending temporary protections for some 4,000 Liberians in US for a year.
Washington, DC - When Rose Knuckles Bull came to the United States in 1999, her home country of Liberia was beginning to experience its second civil war.
The first, which lasted from 1989 through 1996, killed some 200,000 people and displaced about half the population. The second war ended in 2003, but both conflicts created a devastating humanitarian situation that further complicated matters when Ebola broke out in 2014.
After coming to the US on a visitor's visa, Knuckles Bull was given Temporary Protective Status (TPS) under a programme that provides protections to individuals unable to return to their home countries usually due to wars or natural disasters. She was later given Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) protections, which gave Liberians the right to work and live in the US, but no path to citizenship.
In March 2018, US President Donald Trump said he was ending DED, giving an estimated 4,000 Liberians in the US a year - until March 31, 2019 - to either leave the US on their own and or risk deportation.
On Thursday, as the deadline loomed, and amid increased pressure by politicians, lawyers and the Liberian community, the White House announced it was extending the "wind-down period" for the expiration of DED for another year.
"Upon further reflection and review, I have decided that is is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to extend the wind-down period for an additional 12 months ... The overall situation in West Africa remains concerning and Liberia is an important regional partner for the United States," Trump said in a statement announcing the extension.
"The reintegration of DED beneficiaries into Liberian civil and political life will be a complex task, and an unsuccessful transition could strain United States-Liberia relations and undermine Liberia's post-civil war strides toward democracy and political stability," the president added.
Knuckles Bull, who lives in New York, expressed cautious optimism upon hearing about the extension. She told Al Jazeera the rollercoaster of emotions and the financial strain of having to reapply several times for work authorisation has created repeated stress over the last 20 years.
"[Trump] is just giving us time to be here, he's not absorbing us into the system," she said by telephone.
Other individuals and groups that have been organising over the past year to pressure the Trump administration to extend the deadline declared victory, but said a permanent solution needed to be found. Yatta Kiazolu, a Liberian DED recipient who recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that "we are still in the fight for a permanent solution because we still have lives after March 31st, 2020".
Ellison blamed Congress for the looming deportation order by failing to pass comprehensive immigration reforms. "In reality a lot of these folks in a functioning Congress would be citizens right now or on a path to citizenship," he told Al Jazeera. "Now we have to fight in the courts." Hannah Graf Evans, a legislative representative for immigration and refugee policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation, agreed, saying the problem with DED was that it locked Liberians under its protection from getting other visa statuses or citizenship, she said.