Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure, Colonialism, and White Supremacy

Given the pace of anti-immigration news over the past several months, the termination of another immigration initiative should hardly come as a surprise, but the announced wind-down over the next year of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians hardly made a blip on the radar of national news. This change is further evidence of the current administration’s wanton disregard for the lives of those who come to the United States to carry on their lives with dignity and hope. 

Rewire.News supplies answers to many questions in an excellent piece from last week titled: “What is Deferred Enforced Departure? It’s Complicated.”  Here are a few answers to a couple of basic questions from that piece:

How do you receive DED status?

According to an official from USCIS, eligibility requirements for DED are up to the discretion of the president and any relevant requirements established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Applicants for immigration benefits are subject to criminal and national security background checks, but DED differs from other benefits in that there is no formal application process.

“There is no form associated with DED. This means they do not apply for DED but are instead covered by DED,” a USCIS official said in an emailed statement to Rewire.News.

How many Liberian DED beneficiaries are there?

Because there is no application or registration for DED, the official number of Liberian DED recipients is unknown. According to USCIS, the maximum number of Liberians covered by DED would be approximately 3,600, the number of Liberians who held TPS when it was terminated in 2007. Roughly 840 Liberian DED recipients who applied for and currently have work authorization will be affected by Trump’s decision to end DED for Liberia.

The relatively small number of Liberian DED recipients means that the impact on the national level is minimal, but we must think about the context in order to understand why this case matters.

To begin with, Liberian history is directly linked to the U.S. institutions of slavery and colonialism dating to the pre-Civil War era. In the face of a growing population of freed black slaves in the abolitionist northern region of the United States, the American Colonization Society proposed to create a nation in Africa where freed slaves could live. This process of colonial settlement of a diverse population of freed slaves started in 1820 and resulted in conflict between a new ruling class of Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples of the region. The government was led by Americo-Liberians from the nation’s founding in 1847 until 1980. The other 95% of the population, descended from local ethnic groups rather than the descendants of settlers from the United States, was totally excluded from power.

A coup d’etat in 1980 marked a shift in political power. The resulting instability and struggle would lead to two civil wars and death of 250,000 people.

Although the country has been in a process of recovery for the past 15 years or so, an Ebola outbreak in 2014 created further pressure for people to leave. Economic restructuring has led Liberia to have one of the highest levels of foreign investment as a percentage of GDP in the world. The resulting growth of concessions to foreign extractive industries since 2006 has displaced tens of thousands of people. As a result of the wars and crises that have followed, many people have been traumatized and can hardly be blamed for seeking new beginnings elsewhere.

Since the political consequences of this U.S. colonial enterprise continue to affect Liberia even today, the United States should accept its responsibility to provide – if not reparations – at least a welcoming policy for any Liberian who seeks life in the United States.

Moreover, apart from the particular gravity of the Liberian case, there is another important pattern to observe in the immigration decisions made by this administration. All of the immigration program suspensions and wind-downs that have been announced in the past year – Central American Minors, TPS for many countries, DED for Liberia – share a common feature: they target immigrants who come from places other than Europe. #45, who has been married to two women from Eastern Europe, seems to be unconcerned about European migration to the United States and has even reportedly suggested that he would be happy with fewer people arriving from Haiti and Africa, and more from places like Norway. (DACA represents a minor deviation from this general practice, since 0.7% of Dreamers were born in Europe.)

Finally, if the President actually had any level of concern about a vulnerable population from a particular place, it would be within the power of the office to allow them to remain in the U.S. legally under DED. Any statement he makes to blame others for the brutal and inhumane immigration policies of his administration is simply empty rhetoric. And ending DED for Liberia serves as one more example of a pattern of abuse of some of the most resilient – yet vulnerable – among us. Our place is to stand alongside these neighbors and not to allow them to be forgotten when the next Tweet comes along.  

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