Boston-Based Advocates Sue Trump, Arguing End Of Immigration Protections For Liberians Is Racist

John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston houses the Boston Immigration Court. (Curt Nickisch for WBUR)

( Trump administration is once again ending temporary immigration protections for a group of immigrants living in the U.S. And, once again, attorneys are suing.

A designation called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) has protected eligible Liberians from deportation for two decades. President Trump said last year that Liberia is now a stable country and ready to repatriate what lawyers estimate to be thousands of people living in the U.S. with the humanitarian status.

Trump announced the program will end on March 31. He says the country’s decades-long civil war is over, and he pointed to the great strides the country has made in containing outbreaks following the 2014 Ebola crisis in the country.

But a Boston-based legal advocacy group has a very different view.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit in Boston’s federal court claiming cancellation of the program for the African nation is racist. They see it as an effort to forcibly remove nonwhite immigrants from the country.

“We were able to have work authorization, protection from deportation all these years and in a week, my entire family is going to be undocumented.” Vestonia Viddy

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal heads up the group and hopes the suit will “shine a spotlight on the needs of black immigrant communities facing tremendous obstacles as a result of bigotry, discrimination and hate.”

Trump has tried canceling similar temporary humanitarian protections for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, though those protections are still in place while separate lawsuits play out.

Many Liberian nationals fled the chaos in their country in terror, and the prospect of returning to an uncertain future is raising fears all over again.

Vestonia Viddy remembers hiding in the ceiling of her home in Liberia when the rebel forces came knocking. She was 8 years old at the time, and the country was in the throes of its first civil war.

“We packed up our stuff and we left. And I never saw my father again and we just fled,” she says.

She says the rebels made her father, who was a doctor in the local hospital, stay behind to care for their wounded. It was years later that the family learned of his death.

Viddy, who is now 36, fled to neighboring Sierre Leone with her two siblings and pregnant mother. The family entered the U.S. on visitors’ visas, settling in Delaware. As Liberia’s civil war raged on, Viddy and her family continued receiving a patchwork of temporary humanitarian protections — living legally in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.

“I mean, we’re all just scared,” she says. “We were able to have work authorization, protection from deportation all these years and in a week, my entire family is going to be undocumented.”

Proponents of stricter immigration policies say these temporary programs are meant to be just that — temporary.

“It is about time to end the use of these controversial, temporary protection programs which go on and on for years and years,” says Jessica Vaughan, policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

She says Trump ending these programs — all of which have overwhelmingly protected immigrants of color — is just good policy, not racism.

“Too many politicians have not had the will to end these programs even though the conditions that led to the designation of citizens of these countries for temporary protection have long been remedied,” Vaughan says.

In 2017, Liberia did experience its first peaceful transition of power since the civil war. But its economy remains among the weakest in Africa. Espinoza-Madrigal insists conditions in the country remain unsettled, at best. His group will argue in Boston federal court this week that a judge should keep the DED protections for Liberia in place throughout the duration of the litigation.

“From Massachusetts to Maryland, Minnesota and California,” he says, “our clients have been terrorized by the prospect of returning to a country that is unsafe and unable to receive them.”

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