California-based immigrants from Liberia who came to the United States under the Deferred Enforced Departure program are eligible for citizenship under a provision that is part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation was originally proposed as a bill and allows Liberians who have had a green card for five years to apply for citizenship.
Liberians fleeing a civil war arrived in the country under the DED program from roughly 1989 to 2003. There are around 4,000 still in the United States, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have begun taking green card applications from them. The Trump administration had said it would end their DED status but then extended their time to stay in the country to March 30, 2020. Until 2017, when Trump revoked it, Liberians had Temporary Protected Status. Many who were brought to the country as children have also been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A lawsuit argued that ending DED was a discriminatory act based on their national origin and race.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Jack Reed, argued that forcing Liberians to return would involve sending them back to a country that they were no longer familiar with. He said uprooting them from their settled lives in the U.S. was not in the country’s best interest.
This situation illustrates how quickly immigration law can change. For this reason, people who are seeking a path to citizenship may want to consult an attorney. Even if the person has friends or family members who also became citizens, regulations may have changed since then. An attorney may be able to keep a person seeking naturalization apprised of any of these changes and may be able to assist in addressing any concerns the person has and helping to prepare the application.