In 2019, the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) provision passed with bipartisan support through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020, providing a pathway for Liberian migrants to obtain lawful permanent resident status after spending years with uncertain legal status in the U.S. Despite its promise, few applicants used the program, thanks partly to a challenging rollout amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that many of the complexities posed by the pandemic are resolved, Congress should reauthorize the program with a new application deadline so as many migrants as possible can benefit from permanent residence. 

Initially, eligible Liberian nationals were given until December 20, 2020, to apply for an adjustment of status under LRIF. Given the cumbersome application process and the pandemic, the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act extended this filing period by one year, setting a new deadline for LRIF applicants of December 20, 2021. 

LRIF offered Liberian migrants a chance to escape the uncertainty of the temporary TPS and DED programs, which always carry an expiration date and the possibility of deportation. Yet only 3,969 of the estimated 10,000 eligible Liberian nationals submitted applications before the December 20, 2021 deadline. Some applications were still being processed as of the last quarter of fiscal year 2023. Roughly 600 applicants still await a decision on their status. 

Under LRIF, Liberian nationals who had been in the U.S. since November 20, 2014 and met other eligibility criteria could file to obtain lawful permanent residence for themselves and eligible dependents, like spouses and children. Thousands of Liberians had resided in the U.S. under temporary protections for years, some for decades. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designates a country for temporary protected status (TPS) based on conflict, environmental disasters, or other conditions that might warrant a humanitarian response. Additionally, many Liberians were granted deferred enforced departure (DED) to promote foreign interests. 

Liberian nationals were first granted TPS in the United States in 1991, two years after a civil war broke out in Liberia, which displaced over half of the country’s citizens. When Liberians’ TPS expired in 1999, they were granted DED. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted the U.S. government to continue granting Liberians these protections. Several presidents have extended DED coverage periods multiple times based on foreign interests and conditions in Liberia. Eligible Liberian nationals have been protected under either TPS or DED for decades. Still, the switching between the two programs and the many scheduled expirations often left Liberians with uncertainties regarding their status, protections, and work authorization. 

When former President Trump declined to extend Liberians’ DED, thousands of Liberians residing in the U.S. faced deportation, prompting the LRIF provision to receive bipartisan support in Congress. 

The Biden administration extended Liberian DED protections, acknowledging that the LRIF “application process was new and complex, resulting in some procedural and administrative challenges,” including the unexpected challenges wrought by COVID-19, which caused severe processing backlogs at USCIS. These delays and uncertainties over program guidelines created frustration and confusion

According to a Delaware news outlet, this confusion led to some applications being denied early in the rollout. Other applicants struggled with inconsistent processing across offices, difficulties obtaining documents to prove Liberian citizenship, the $1225 application fee, and short deadlines. 

What’s more, many eligible applicants lacked sufficient time to procure the necessary documents, funds, and legal assistance. The program’s short deadlines likely limited opportunities to encourage hesitant applicants through the process. Because of these complexities, the LRIF provision fell short of its potential. 

The thousands of Liberian nationals in the United States who have yet to receive lawful permanent residence will lose DED protection on June 30, 2024, without additional action. If President Biden does not extend this DED expiration date, these migrants will no longer be able to reside or work legally in the country. For some Liberian citizens, the United States is the only home they have ever known; others fear separation from their family members who are American citizens. 

Congress should consider reauthorizing the LRIF program for further applications, giving these migrants a better chance to navigate the application process.