In Alabama, a Liberian Teacher Awaits Her Fate as Deadline Looms for Little-Known Immigration Program
In the nine years that Nancy Harris has taught pre-school at a predominantly white Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama, she has jumpstarted the literacy of hundreds of children. The parents and larger church community have come to love and rely on Harris, whom the children playfully call “Ms. Fancy.” But until recently, they never really knew much about her background as a Liberian immigrant. The mother of three had to inform her community that she may be forced to leave the United States soon because of what may be another attack on immigrant communities by the Trump administration: the end of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians.
After two civil wars in Liberia killed an estimated 250,000 people from 1989 to 2003, Liberians in the United States were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In 2007, George W. Bush’s administration terminated TPS for Liberia, but allowed TPS recipients to apply for DED. While it does not provide a pathway to citizenship, DED includes work authorization and safety from deportation for a designated period of time.
Since DED was first granted, President Barack Obama renewed it for Liberians every 18 months. The current extension lasts until March 31. Liberia is currently the only country with DED status, and, as America’s Voice reported, only the president can extend DED using the office’s foreign policy powers.
Trump has until March 31 to make a decision. As ThinkProgress reported, Trump has three options: “He can choose to make an affirmative decision to extend the program; choose to make a negative decision to end the program; or not provide a reason at all,” which would automatically trigger the program’s termination.
Because of the strict nature of DED programs, Liberian immigrants like Harris are “among the most checked, vetted, secure populations of immigrants in this country,” according to the American Immigration Council. While the exact number of Liberian DED recipients is unknown, DED recipients have been in the United States for years, putting down deep roots in their communities and often coming from mixed-status families with U.S.-citizen children. But given Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and overt racism—reportedly saying in January that Black immigrants come from “shithole countries“—DED recipients like Harris are deeply concerned for their futures in the United States.
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