Thousands of Liberians living in the United States, including Minnesota, were set to be deported to their Ebola-stricken homeland Tuesday, but President Barack Obama deferred their deportation.
Obama extended the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status for Liberians who'd been living legally in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – since 1991, the U.S. has provided a safe haven for Liberians who fled their homeland due to armed conflicts, according to a release from the White House Friday.
Minnesota is home to one of the largest Liberian populations outside of Africa. About 30,000 people with Liberian ancestry live in the state, and about 17 percent of Liberians living in the country live in Brooklyn Park, The Associated Press reported. Of the Liberians living in Minnesota, there are about 1,000 Liberians living under DED status, the Star Tribune says.
In July, several Senators, including Al Franken, D-Minn., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., urged the president to consider extending Liberians' DED status due to the deadly outbreak, among other reasons.
Obama said Friday it's in the "foreign policy interest of the United States" to defer the removal of any Liberian national living under DED status for the next 24 months. With this action, Liberians may remain living and working in the U.S. through Oct. 1, 2016.
Liberia has been one of the countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. This outbreak, which is the deadliest on record, was first detected in Africa in March, and the number of cases in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is at roughly 6,553, including 3,083 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Friday.
Community leaders in Minnesota have commended Obama for extending Liberians' DED status, some noted deporting them would affect far more than 1,000 people if families were taken into account.
"This was a public health decision and a humanitarian decision. You don't want to exacerbate the crisis by sending thousands of people back into a danger zone," Wynfred Russell, executive director of the Brooklyn Park nonprofit, African Career, Education and Resource Inc., told the Star Tribune. "These people have built homes here and are contributing members of society."
Worry over the outbreak spread to Minnesota this summer when Patrick Sawyer, a man who worked for the Liberian government and was planning to visit his wife and daughters in Minnesota, died from Ebola after traveling to Nigeria. He's believed to be the first American to die from the deadly virus.
Although the Ebola outbreak is mainly contained in West Africa, Sawyer's death sparked more worldwide concerns about the virus. Because Sawyer was able to board an international flight, his death worried people that the virus could spread from one nation to the next.
Minnesotans have felt the shockwaves of Ebola in recent months. Several communities have held meetings about Ebola to calm peoples' nerves and local nonprofits and churches have gathered relief and supplies to send to Ebola-stricken nations.