The cyclical narrative of Liberian history is stuck in the middle of an interesting chapter. But for the actual characters in this story, frustration, stagnation and uncertainty nag them daily. Thousands of Liberian refugees in the United States who fled a 14-year civil war face the possibility of a massive forced departure when their temporary immigration status expires next March.
“For America to send Liberians back is like driving a son away,” Emmanuel Nymuah says as we sit in a cramped glass booth in the garden section of the Home Depot where he works. “Our ancestors have roots in American, our capital is named after an American president. Look at our flag.”
Nyumah lives in Park Hill, Staten Island, the largest Liberian community outside of Liberia. Many in the neighborhood share his sentiment but a Liberian exodus from the U.S. is highly unlikely. President Obama will probably extend their temporary status as he did last March.
The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, which will give Liberians a path to citizenship, was recommended to a judiciary committiee two years ago but with congress’ loaded plate it might sit around the capitol for another year.
“We are hopeful that it will pass but not extremely optimistic, ” Kerper Dwanye, president of Minnesota’s Liberian Orginization says over the phone. “We’ll probably get another extension.”
Nyumah says he’d be grateful to stay in Staten Island with an extension but feels trapped without citizenship.
“I wish I could go back to college,” he says. He made it to his sophomore year in college in Liberia before war crippled the country but at 34 years old he fears that his mind will rust. He also says that between daily expenses and sending money to family in Liberia his Home Depot paycheck doesn’t leave him with anything to save. “I would be so happy just to go to school but with this temporary status I can’t get any financial aid.”
Some people like Roy Beck of NumbersUSA advocate to send Liberians back to Liberia. He didn’t respond to my interview request but his blog can give you that perspective.
Does perpetual renewal of temporary immigration status hinder Liberian refugees’ possibility of socioeconomic advancement in the U.S.? Should Congress pass the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act or keep it on deck another year or so?