Pennsylvania

Liberians seeking a green card are facing a time crisis.Proponents want an extension of the deadline | States and Regions

A program that could offer green cards to hundreds of Liberians living in Pennsylvania is ready to end this month.

A spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it had already acquired the expected number of applicants. However, local members of the Liberia community and immigration lawyers say that if the December 20 deadline is not extended, thousands of people could go missing.

“Currently, the program is failing,” said Breanne Palmer, Interim Policy and Advocacy Director at Undocu Black Network. Lawyers and advocates are working directly with applicants, saying they are holding back applications for distrust of the government, delays in paperwork, and even supply chain issues.

The Liberia Refugee Immigration Fair Act, passed in 2019 with bipartisan support, was the first law to extend its permanent legal status to a group of new people for more than a decade. You can provide a Liberia-born US resident with a green card to prove that you have been in the US since at least November 20, 2014.

According to federal data, the maximum number of applications is 642, from Pennsylvania, followed by Minnesota, Maryland, and New Jersey.

The dispute over programs created under the Trump administration raises issues that could arise if the Biden administration succeeds in passing drastic immigration changes such as those proposed by the Buildback Better Act. Foresee.

From the beginning, government and independent estimates of how many people could benefit were different. The New York Immigration Research Center estimates that 10,000 Liberians living in the United States may be eligible, based on estimates by the Population Reference Bureau for the number of Liberians who do not yet have a green card. USCIS estimates that, based on the number of people in countries that have previously applied for other programs, that number is only about one-third. So far, 3,529 people have applied and 951 have been approved, according to USCIS data.

Aside from that discrepancy, Palmer said the current timeline is still unnecessarily rushing.

“The Liberia community needs more time to put together a powerful initial application. To supplement previously submitted applications with new, stronger evidence. To secure legal representatives. Protect documents. And to secure the funds needed to apply for myself and my family, “she said. A group working with the Liberia community is asking Congress to extend the application period or remove it altogether.

US Congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota said Congressional supporters are “eagerly” working to change the program by the end of the year.

A USCIS spokesman said the program had already been extended once between December 2020 and December 2021, pushing back the need for an extension. But that change and management changes didn’t bring a wave of new applications. According to USCIS, about 95% of applicants applied in 2020.

How to get out of unstable immigration status

Liberians, often fleeing the civil war at home or joining a family to lead a better life in the United States, have been allowed to stay and work in this country for decades. Programs such as temporary protection status and deferred departure meant protection from deportation, but meant a life that could lead to loss of status and work permit in the future.

The Liberia Refugee Immigration Fair Act provides a way out of the instability if the applicant meets the criteria and is able to submit the documents. However, it can be difficult to track and obtain documents issued by foreign governments, especially during a pandemic, said Voffee Jabateh, CEO of the North American African Cultural Alliance or ACANA. West Philadelphia-based nonprofits have helped dozens of people apply for green cards.

For example, a man from Florida who called ACANA for help has been in the United States for 40 years, but Jabateh said he didn’t have some of the necessary documents, such as a copy of his birth certificate. increase. Searching for those documents means finding someone to help in Liberia. And I’m waiting.

“Even if you qualify, you can’t apply,” said Javate, who said there were many customers in a similar situation until those documents arrived.

“I have a young man waiting for the correct birth certificate from Liberia … but they still say we don’t have the paperwork to make the certificate,” said the Citizenship and Family Unity Program. Staff lawyer Pam Roberts said HIAS Pennsylvania, which has supported Liberian applications.

At the end of October, USCIS could adjust program requirements to provide proof that people who struggled to get some documents from abroad, such as unexpired Liberia passports, tried instead. I did it.

According to Roberts, some people who have already applied and have been rejected may miss it if they miss the window to reapply with better material.

After years of fear of deportation, trusting the system is another hurdle to overcome. “We believe there are quite a few people who are scared,” she said.

The stakes are high even for those who are waiting. Liberia’s temporary protection status is set to end in June 2022, so anyone currently participating in the program in the United States and not having a green card under this law will lose their status. Or you may be forced to leave the country.

Gwendolyn Flowers, 51, has lived in the frontier for over 30 years since he came to the United States as a teenager in 1987. Flowers, now a certified nursing assistant in northeastern Philadelphia, said when the bill was passed: I felt happy. I was very happy with this opportunity. “

But at the same time, she was hesitant. Flowers said that if he wasn’t sure the program would help her, or if it would be a trap, it would be “a way to find your whereabouts, your current location and pick you up.”

That fear, coupled with the long processing times, is one of the reasons why supporters are demanding a suspension of deadlines. Until more green cards are issued, they insist, some people will not trust the program to actually work.

With the help of ACANA, Flowers applied for in early 2020 and interviewed USCIS in November 2020. Ten months later, she said she received a green card.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Flowers said. The ceiling that had been hanging on her for decades went up all at once. Now she said. “I am free to work wherever I want. I can travel and invest abroad and abroad. There are many things I can do.”

Liberians seeking a green card are facing a time crisis.Proponents want an extension of the deadline | States and Regions

Source link Liberians seeking a green card are facing a time crisis.Proponents want an extension of the deadline | States and Regions

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