On January 20, 2021—the day of his inauguration—President Biden reinstated Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) for eligible Liberians in the United States. As part of the president’s constitutional power to conduct foreign relations, he has discretion to authorize DED for foreign nationals. DED is not a specific immigration status, but it protects covered individuals from being removed from the United States, typically for a specified period.
The memorandum to the Secretary of Homeland Security that authorized DED for eligible Liberians noted that the United States has provided a safe haven for Liberians since 1991. Many Liberians fled their homeland around that time due to widespread civil unrest and armed conflict and were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States. Following the end of the armed conflict in Liberia in 2003, TPS for those Liberians affected by the conflict was terminated as of October 1, 2007.
However, President George W. Bush deferred the enforced departure of Liberians who had been granted TPS due to the conflict in their homeland. President Barack Obama extended DED until March 31, 2018, part way through the Trump administration. President Donald Trump initially concluded that further extension of DED for Liberians was not justified, but that given the United States’ foreign policy interests, an orderly transition was appropriate. He later extended the DED transition period through March 30, 2020.
The United States Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 in December 2019. That legislation included the Liberian Refugee Fairness (LRIF) provision, which made some Liberians and their families eligible for adjustment of status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). It also gave those eligible until December 20, 2020 to petition for adjustment of status. Trump then extended the DED transition period further, to January 10, 2021, so that Liberian DED beneficiaries could still be eligible for employment authorization.
Individuals who are eligible for LRIF are nationals of Liberia who have been continuously present in the United States since November 20, 2014, and admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility.
After the LRIF application period experienced a slow rollout and significant administrative delays, Congress extended the LRIF period for a year. However, that legislation did not extend employment authorization for Liberian DED beneficiaries. Under President Biden’s memorandum, DED and employment authorization for eligible Liberians are automatically extended through June 30, 2022.
All Liberian DED beneficiaries present in the United States as of January 10, 2021 will have continued DED and employment authorization, with the exception of individuals who fall into one of the following categories:
Those Liberian nationals (or noncitizens whose last habitual residence outside the United States was in Liberia) who are eligible for LPR status should promptly file the necessary documents. These include Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) and Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization). These documents must be filed by December 20, 2021.
Applications of Liberian nationals for LPR status under LRIF thus far have been relatively low. This is unsurprising, given the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic and USCIS’ minimal outreach to Liberians in the United States about the program. While some advocates are pushing for the LRIF deadline to be extended further, perhaps indefinitely, it makes sense for those eligible to take advantage of the opportunity that exists now.
If you have questions about Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians or whether you are eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.