U.S. Law Center

Provision gives some Liberians pathway to citizenship

Immigrants in California who came to the country from Liberia may be eligible for a green card and citizenship. On Dec. 26, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it was taking green card applications for Liberians, who will be able to apply for naturalization after holding a green card for five years.

From around 1989 to 2003, many Liberians came to the United States under the Deferred Enforced Departure program after their country suffered a civil war. Many were also eligible for Temporary Protected Status although the Trump administration ended this in 2017. Most had also qualified for DED at that point, and some are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. However, President Trump had planned to end the DED program as well although it was extended for Liberians to March 30, 2020. A lawsuit was filed claiming that it would be racial discrimination as well as discrimination on grounds of national origin to send them back to Liberia.

The provision granting the opportunity for citizenship is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, but it was originally introduced as a stand-alone bill. Many of the immigrants have been living in the country for decades, and one of the original bill's sponsors said that it was not in the best interest of the country to force them to leave.

Whether a person qualifies for a green card and eventual citizenship under this program or another one, the process of getting a green card and becoming naturalized can be a complex one. Immigration law is also subject to rapid change, so people who are trying to remain in the United States permanently may want to consult an attorney about the best path to permanent residency or citizenship. An attorney may be able to assist in preparing the relevant paperwork.

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