Liberians hope to stay in the U.S.by Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
As the U.S. Senate reconvenes in Washington this week, many Liberians in Minnesota are anxiously waiting for senators to take action on a bill that could determine whether they have to leave the country within the next 30 days. Liberians are hoping for an extension of their Temporary Protected Status.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Temporary Protected Status that some 4,000 Liberians in the United States live under is due to expire at the end of the month. At that time, they're supposed to return to Liberia, a country that's still recovering from 14 years of civil war.
John Thomas, 37, is among the estimated 1,000 Liberians in Minnesota on notice to leave the United States. But there's no evidence of an impending move at his Maple Grove apartment. There are no boxes and he's not packing. Instead, he's trying to block out his fears, and he's praying that the U.S. Senate will pass a bill that would extend his Temporary Protected Status -- or TPS -- another year.
"There are a lot of things that cross my mind every night, a lot of nightmares. I don't have a lot of options and I don't know how to address it sometimes. I just resort to, well I have to believe in God and I hope that God can touch the minds of senators and representatives of the U.S. and see what He can do for us," he said.
Thomas has lived under TPS for nearly six years. That means he's had six annual renewals of his status, with a round of worry each time. He's tried to carry on a life as close to normal as he can.
Under TPS, he's legally living in the United States. He wishes he could have permanent residency, but for now, he's just hoping TPS is extended. He works as an accountant for a Fortune 500 company and he cares for his two daughters, a 12-year-old and a 4-month-old. He's trying to be strong, but there's a lot of uncertainty about his immediate future and the angst is taking its toll.
"It's stressful, believe me it is. It is stressful. Sometimes you don't concentrate. But you have to carry on daily life. You have to maintain family, be a role model. Your children have to look up to you to smile. If you sit down and cry, who will they look up to. So you have to be a man. That's what I'm trying to do," he said.
Thomas doesn't want to return to his homeland because, like many Liberians, he fears for his life. He says he was persecuted by rebels aligned with former Liberian President Charles Taylor and that's why he fled to the United States in the first place.
Fear is one reason some Liberians are hesitant to return to their country. Stephen Wreh, 37, says he, too, was wanted by rebels in Liberia because he tried to protect his brother.
"My brother was killed during the civil war because of his political connection. I had a chance to hide my brother when he was being chased. Rebels went to my house and burned my house. Had it not been for the sympathy of neighbors, my family would have been killed. I had to escape," he said.
But even if he didn't fear for his safety, Wreh says there's another reason he doesn't want to go back home. He says the country isn't ready yet. Wreh says there are few jobs available -- unemployment is about 85 percent -- and some of the basic necessities are not in place.
"There's no electricity, except here and there in the capital city. Running water is an issue, as well. Housing is an issue. Where will you go, where will you live? What do you start from?" he said.
Wreh says although he'd like to return home one day, he can better support his family from here and would like to return to Liberia when his country is more stable. But he could be forced to go back sooner. TPS has been offered to Liberians since 1991 and it's been extended every year since then. But U.S. officials say now it's time for Liberians to go home. They say Liberia is now safe, it has a democratically-elected government and some rehabilitation has taken place.
The House of Representatives, though, says Liberians should have more time. In July, the House passed a bill to extend TPS another year. The Senate failed to follow suit, but is expected to take up the measure in the session that reconvenes this week. Liberians are hoping lawmakers act before their time runs out at the end of the month.
- All Things Considered, 09/04/2007, 5:25 p.m.