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Ellison throws support behind Liberians fighting to stay in US

Keith Ellison answers questions from the press in Minneapolis in this file photo. Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and attorneys general from eight other states and the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s decision to end legal immigration status for thousands of Liberians.

About 4,000 Liberians are protected by the Deferred Enforced Departure program, which allowed them to escape war and natural disasters in their home country. That program will be terminated on Sunday, March 31, per a Trump administration order made last year.

President Donald Trump said in his decision that an extension is not warranted because conditions in Liberia have improved and its government has stabilized.

Minnesota is host to one of the largest Liberian enclaves in the U.S. Nearly 16,000 people who live here were born in Liberia or claim Liberian ancestry.

“Liberians in Minnesota are our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends,” Ellison said in a statement released Tuesday, March 26. “I’ve led this coalition because when the Liberian community lives with dignity, safety and respect, as it has in Minnesota for decades, every Minnesota community thrives. … When the President won’t protect Minnesotans, I’ll use the powers of the Attorney General to protect them.”

Attorneys general from Massachusetts, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia also signed on to the brief.

Legal fight coming

The lawsuit in question was filed on March 8 by a group of Liberians who will lose their legal protections. They claim that Trump’s decision to terminate the program was unconstitutional because it was based on “racial animus” and “national origin discrimination.”

The group has filed a motion for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to enjoin the Trump administration from enforcing its decision. The motion, if granted, would prevent the administration from enacting the president’s order.

Their case will be brought in front of a federal judge for an emergency hearing on Thursday, March 28. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the attorney for the Liberian plaintiffs, said the support of the attorneys general will strengthen their case.

“The support of the attorneys general gives our Liberian clients significant credibility in outlining the harms that will come to pass if the cancellation of DED is allowed to go into effect,” said Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights. “(A favorable) ruling would protect all DED holders across the country.”

Waiting in fear

Members of Minnesota’s Liberian community are waiting in fear as the program’s expiration date approaches.

“People now are already living in fear, and the panic continues to increase on a daily basis,” said Erasmus Williams, chairman of the Liberian Immigration Coalition. “Our community is entering an emergency crisis.”

Williams said that the community welcomes support from anybody, even the Trump administration.

“At the end of the day, there is one focus. … Keep our family here,” he said.