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Statutes of Liberty: The First Trump Amnesty — Liberians, Take Note

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

“Amnesty” isn’t the word that the Trump Administration would want to use — they’re calling “Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness” — but it walks like an amnesty and quacks like an amnesty, so, take it from your friendly local immigration lawyers: this is the Liberian Amnesty.

Not all Liberians qualify, but many do. Here are the rules, paraphrased and streamlined:

  1. You must file an application for a green card by December 20, 2020.
  2. You must be a citizen of Liberia.
  3. You must have been “continuously present” from November 20, 2014 to the date that you file your green card application.
  4. You must not have been convicted of a serious crime.
  5. You must not have persecuted others for their political or religious convictions.

Several of these rules include terms of art. “Continuously present” allows for short gaps in presence; “serious crime” is our plain-English way of saying “an aggravated felony or two or more crimes involving moral turpitude.” And there are waivers available for some people who might be otherwise disqualified. It’s complicated! If you’re Liberian, call your lawyer.

Non-Liberians in the audience are probably wondering why on earth the Trump Administration would do this. The short answer is that some Liberians have had TPS (Temporary Protected Status) and DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) since the George H.W. Bush administration promulgated temporary protections for Liberians in 1991. That was a long time ago — one of us was born in that year, and the other one was a first-grader at Ashlawn Elementary, right here in Arlington. (Hi, Ms. McCray!)

Between 1991 and the present, various Presidential administrations of various ideological dispositions have extended temporary protection to Liberians in the United States. The Trump Administration moved to abolish these protections as of March 30, 2020.

That move inspired Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation to add the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act. (Why Rhode Island? There are lots of Liberians there. The more you know!) And Rhode Island happens to be the home state for the Ranking Member on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed.

The world is full of surprises. The Trump Amnesty for Liberians is one of them. We suspect that it would come as a surprise to him, too. In President Trump’s comments after he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, he commented on the prolixity of the Act:

So it’s now my honor to sign the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act into law. And again, congratulations.  Thank you all very much. Very, very special people. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

This is the thickness. Can you believe that? (Laughter.)

(The act is signed.)

It’s now signed.  (Applause.)

We, too, applaud. Many Liberians across the United States will be able to finally stop worrying and become lawful permanent residents.

As always, be in touch with us directly if you need legal advice. If you have other sorts of questions, comment below. We love comments and will reply to all we can.

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