Afro Connect: Sunsetting of Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Program

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Liberia is a small coastal West African country, the size of the State of Ohio, with a population of 4.8 million people. The United States was a crucial player in Liberia’s founding, and bilateral ties have generally remained close despite significant strains associated with Liberia’s two civil wars (1989-1997 and 1999-2003). There are around 80,000 Immigrants from Liberia in the United States, including large populations of Liberians in Rhode Island, Staten Island, Philadelphia, Virginia, Georgia, Minnesota, and California.

Congress enacted the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Program (LRIF) in December 2019 to create a pathway for citizenship for Liberians who have called the U.S. home for more than five years. Due to two Liberian civil wars and the Ebola epidemic, many eligible Liberians were previously on temporary immigration statuses, including Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

TPS is a temporary immigration status provided to nationals of certain countries experiencing problems that make it difficult or unsafe for their nationals to be deported there. DED allows certain individuals from designated countries and regions facing political or civic conflict or natural disaster to stay in the United States. Both TPS and DED can lead to permanent legal status in the United States.

In response to USCIS’ delay in processing the LRIF application in 2020 and its burdensome requirements — which were rendered impossible by the COVID-19 pandemic — advocates fought for and won an extension of the deadline to December 20, 2021.

Based on congressional reports, out of the 10,000 potential LRIF recipients, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has only processed 800 applications. According to Diana Konaté, Policy Director at African Communities Together, the Biden Administration once in office reviewed the program to ensure barriers to processing were removed for timely adjudications.

However, community outreach remains a major challenge for the program, while lack of internet access and lack of awareness of the program has resulted in a low number of applicants.

A full outline of the program can be found at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-eligibility/liberian-refugee-immigration-fairness.

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