In New York’s ‘Little Liberia,’ immigrants get ready to leave — or go underground

By Nina Agrawal |

Top, Alexander Morris, a clergyman from Monrovia, Liberia, is leaving his fate to God. Bottom, Liberians gather and worship at the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church on Staten Island. Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

(Los Angeles Times) – As time runs out on their protected status, Liberian immigrants are going underground, preparing to leave the U.S. and simply praying for a reprieve. Their experience mirrors what could happen for hundreds of thousands of other immigrants with similar legal protections.

At 67, Rose Knuckles Bull has had enough. The onetime government administrator and Liberian refugee says she put in her time working, paid her taxes and now just wants to go home. Bit by bit, she is packing her things and saving up for a container to ship everything back to Careysburg.

That’s not an option for Prince. The 52-year-old has a teenage daughter in school here and nothing to return to in Unification Town.

As for 50-year-old Alexander Morris? The clergyman from Monrovia is leaving his fate to God.

Across America, time is running out for thousands of Liberians who came here in the face of a grinding civil war, staggering poverty and disease. Some have already lost their legal status to be here. For others, their protected status will expire in less than a year.

But for all, there’s an inescapable reality — those who have made a life in the U.S. now must decide whether to return to a country they haven’t known for years, or stay put and live life on the margins, risking deportation.

Temporary protected status, or TPS, the legal designation that allows immigrants from countries affected by war or natural disaster to work and live in the U.S., expired for Liberian immigrants last May.

Another form of discretionary relief known as deferred enforced departure, offered to Liberians who arrived in the 1990s and early 2000s, was set to run out last month but President Trump gave those Liberians one final year to “wind down” their lives in America.

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