- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2019

President Trump granted a reprieve Thursday to thousands of Liberians who were about to become illegal immigrants, giving them another year to get their affairs in order before they must leave the U.S.

The move marks a reversal for Mr. Trump, who just a year ago set the March 31 deadline for the Liberians to go.

On Thursday, he said conditions in Liberia hadn’t improved quickly enough, so allowing the thousands to stay in the U.S. was in the best interests of America’s foreign policy.

And he suggested Congress could grant the Liberians a full pathway to citizenship.

“Extending the wind-down period will preserve the status quo while the Congress considers remedial legislation,” he said in a notice announcing the move.

Mr. Trump’s decision is a major departure for an administration that had been intent on bringing to an end a number of humanitarian grants that were supposed to be temporary.

Most of those moves were attempts to end Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian protection that in some cases dated back more than two decades, protecting hundreds of thousands of people from Africa, Central America and the Caribbean.

In the case of the Liberians, they had TPS at one point, but it was converted into a different status known as Deferred Enforced Departure in 2007.

Some Liberians have been in the U.S. under special protections since the 1990s.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said Mr. Trump’s move is “a major flip-flop,” contradicting his earlier position that Liberians could have returned home long ago.

“It also seriously undermines the president’s credibility on immigration policy in general — he appears unwilling to follow through on superficially tough talk, and now no one will believe that he will do what he says,” she said.

She predicted Mr. Trump’s reversal will entice more migrants to attempt to reach the U.S., convinced they, too, eventually will be able to earn reprieves from deportation.

When DED for Liberians was last established in 2007, officials said perhaps 4,200 people would qualify. But exact numbers are unknown.

Unlike TPS, which involves applying for official status, DED is a declaration that comes from the president and acts as a protection against deportation.

In the case of the Liberians, Mr. Trump also has ordered that they be granted work permits, meaning they will be allowed to continue to compete for jobs in the U.S.

Immigrant-rights groups had been pleading with Mr. Trump to extend the Liberians’ status, arguing they’ve been in the country so long that they have put down roots and earned the right to stay.

“It would be unjust to force them to leave this country and return to Liberia, a nation that continues to suffer from civil violence and the outbreak of deadly disease,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Immigrant-rights advocates said Mr. Trump’s decision was good, but they wondered why he put Liberians through the last year of fear and upheaval only to reverse himself.

“The White House has proven itself once again to be erratic and unpredictable,” said Jill Marie Bussey, advocacy director at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Critics say the danger in extending “temporary” programs is they become avenues to permanent immigration that Congress never intended.

Ms. Vaughan said Mr. Trump’s reversal suggests he may be preparing to make a deal on a broader amnesty for a host of illegal immigrants.

“This would be a colossal mistake in light of the fact that we have no control over the border and interior enforcement is hobbled in important ways,” she said. “We should never do an amnesty before enforcement is adequate.”

In the wake of Mr. Trump’s announcement, immigrant-rights groups did demand a broader amnesty, vowing to fight for full citizenship rights for the Liberians, those here under TPS and illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

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