With 12 months secured, Liberian community looks forward

While Liberian refugees now have another year in the United States, some fear there will be no permanent solution.

Last week, President Barack Obama extended the mandatory departure date 12 more months for eligible Liberians residing legally in the United States under temporary status. The extension came only 10 days before the previously granted March 31 deadline. While Liberian community members rejoiced over news of the extension, many hope for a more permanent solution in the next year. âÄúFamilies are going to be separated, and itâÄôs really hard,âÄù Doris Parker , executive director of the Brooklyn Park-based Liberian Women’s Initiative-Minnesota , said. âÄúWe have been separated before. WeâÄôve gone through a lot and for us to go through this again is just really traumatizing, and a lot of people are really nervous about that.âÄù U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and others in introducing the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2009 on March 19. If passed, the bill would allow Liberians brought to the United States legally under temporary status to apply for citizenship. John Bartee , 2008 University of Minnesota alumnus and vice president for the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota , said he and other Liberian community members are hoping the Senate bill will pass before their extension expires.

âÄúA lot of families are at least relieved for the time being, but after 12 months we will be back where we are now,âÄù Bartee said. âÄúWe are praying and doing everything to then get permanent status.âÄù In total, an estimated 30,000 Liberians reside in Minnesota, making the state one of the largest Liberian communities in the country . An estimated 1,000 of these are here under temporary immigration status. Many came here in the early âÄò90s as refugees from a civil war. Parker said the Liberian community is hoping that the government will consider granting permanent status to Liberians who have already established themselves here and have families so they will not be separated again. âÄúBut we are happy,âÄù she said about the extension. âÄúPeople are very excited [for this extension] because it was very nerve-racking.âÄù Bartee left Liberia in 1998 because of the Liberian Civil War. He then moved to Minnesota, leaving behind his 12 sisters and mother. BarteeâÄôs father developed a liver problem before the war and died in 1992 from complications because of no readily available medication, he said. âÄúThere are no good clinics, and no hospital at all,âÄù Bartee said. âÄúHe was on treatment and everything was going fine, but because of the war, there was no treatment.âÄù Bartee went back to Liberia in 2006 to bring his mother to Minnesota. âÄúIf she were still in Liberia, she would be dead,âÄù he said. âÄúThere is no food, no nothing âĦ shooting all over the place, anybody can get hit,âÄù he said. âÄúIt is not a very good condition and I cannot advise anybody under that condition to go and stay.âÄù Bartee currently lives in Plymouth, Minn., his mother in Minneapolis. Chairman for the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota Washington Yonly said the Liberian community is grateful for the extension. âÄúFor the next 12 months, we are not going to be lying down, we are not going to go on vacation,âÄù he said. âÄúWe are going to use this time to reach as many hearts and souls as we can, so that the U.S. Congress can find reasons in their hearts to give us permanent residence.âÄù