Four thousand Liberian holders of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status and their roughly 4,000 U.S. citizen children may have to leave the United States because of the decision in African Communities Together v. Trump. Judge Timothy S. Hillman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts decided that the Court lacked the authority to compel President Donald Trump to act to extend DED for those currently in that status.
DED status (formerly known as Extended Voluntary Departure), like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), is granted to individuals in the United States who cannot return to their home countries because of political or civil conflict or natural disasters. A major difference is that TPS was created by Congress and DHS was given discretion to grant, extend or terminate the status. DED is a Presidential grant. Liberia is the only country that currently has DED status although it has been granted to other countries in the past.
In response to a long period of civil war in Liberia, President George W. Bush in 2007 granted DED to Liberians when their TPS expired. Since then, Liberian DED was continually extended until March 31, 2018, when it was terminated by President Trump and Liberians received a 12-month wind-down period until March 31, 2019. In response, the African Communities lawsuit was filed seeking injunctive relief. Next, President Trump reconsidered and extended the wind-down period until March 30, 2020. In court, the plaintiffs argued that there is still reason to extend DED because of political instability and Ebola. They argued that eliminating DED now would hurt local communities and particularly the health care industry that employs many Liberians. They further argued that the government’s decision was based on discriminatory animus – reminiscent of arguments in the TPS and DACA cases.
There has been a legislative response but to date no resolution. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2019 in March. The bill would provide legal permanent residence to Liberians who have been living in the U.S. in DED status since 2014. Relief for Liberians was also included in H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that passed in the House.
Reports are that the Liberian plaintiffs are considering an appeal.