Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Program Allowed Those With DED Status to Apply for Green Cards; DED Remains an Option

September 2, 2022 Although the application dates for a green card under the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (LRIF) have passed, temporary permission to live in the U.S. with Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) remains a possibility.

By , J.D.

** LEGAL UPDATE **

Thousands of people from the West African nation of Liberia have been living in the U.S. for years with a legal status known as Deferred Enforced Departure or DED, and before that, Temporary Protected Status (TPS). It all began with a brutal civil war in Liberia in the 1990s, and then a major Ebola outbreak, all of which led to the U.S.'s ongoing recognition that it would be unsafe for Liberians living in the U.S. then to return home.

However, because TPS and DED are only temporary benefits meant to stave off deportation, the Liberian community has had to rely on regular renewals, and faced fear of being uprooted (particularly after then-President Trump declared that their DED designation would be terminated).

What the LRIF Offered to Liberian Nationals

In light of the uncertainty faced by Liberians, members of Congress passed the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (LRIF), with the idea of allowing certain Liberians to apply for lawful permanent residency (green cards) and provide them with a pathway to citizenship. The Act was part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. However, the application deadline has since passed.

To be eligible for a green card under LRIF, a Liberian national needed to have been continuously physically present in the United States from November 20, 2014 up to the date of submitting an application for adjustment of status. The person had to be otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa and be admissible to the United States.

Immediate family members, including spouses, unmarried children under 21, and unmarried sons and daughters 21 or older of eligible Liberian nationals were also eligible for green cards under the LRIF. Each needed to file a separate application, but at the same time as the main applicant.

One of the most unusual features of the LRIF program is that it could be used even by Liberians with an outstanding order of deportation or removal. There was no need to ask the court to reopen the case. One could go straight to USCIS to apply, and if approved, USCIS would take care of canceling the removal order. (See January 13, 2020 EOIR Order.)

As an added benefit, some of the grounds of inadmissibility that block other applicants' eligibility for permanent residence were waived for LRIF applicants, including:

  • public charge (or likelihood of receiving need-based public assistance, under I.N.A. § 212(a)(4))
  • labor certification requirements (only applicable to employment-based applicants, per I.N.A. § 212(a)(5))
  • aliens present without admission or parole (referring to the mode of one's U.S. entry, per I.N.A. § 212(a)(6)(A)), and
  • documentation requirements (I.N.A. § 212(a)(7)(A).

On the other hand, the law imposed some bars. Applicants were ineligible for a LRIF green card if they had:

  • been convicted of any aggravated felony
  • been convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense), or
  • ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

USCIS originally planned to stop accepting LRIF applications on December 20, 2020. Subsequently, however, Trump extended the application deadline to December 20, 2021. But that deadline has not been extended since.

Deferred Enforced Departure Continues to Be an Option for Liberians

Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order extending Liberian DED status through through June 30, 2022, and later a subsequent order that:

  • further extends Liberian DED through June 30, 2024, for Liberians who are present in the United States and held DED as of June 30, 2022, and grants them continued employment authorization, and
  • protects from removal any Liberian national or person without nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia, who has been continuously physically present in the United States since May 20, 2017, and also makes them eligible for employment authorization.

You might not even need to submit an application. For starters, there is no application for DED. Also, USCIS is automatically extending the validity of certain Liberian DED-related work permits ("EADs") through June 30, 2024. These include EADs with a Category Code of A-11 and an expiration date of either March 30, 2020, January 10, 2021, or June 30, 2022.

Or if you don't have a work permit and are a DED-eligible Liberian, you may apply for one by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You can also apply for travel authorization (for use in returning after travel outside the United States) by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

See the June, 27, 2022 White House Announcement for details.

Effective Date: September 2, 2022