Yatta Kiazolu has spent the last 22 years of her life in the United States. In less than 25 days, she could be forced to return to a country she has only visited once as a toddler, in which she has never lived.
The 28-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles is a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) beneficiary from Liberia. For the last two decades, she has resided in the United States with permission granted by the U.S. government.
DED, like Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is a temporary relief program for immigrants from certain countries. Under the program, immigrants like Kiazolu are able to obtain a driver’s license, something undocumented immigrants cannot do in most states, and travel outside the country, as Kiazolu did in 2012, when she participated in the University of California’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (UC-HBCU) Initiative in South Africa.
The program allowed Kiazolu to go to graduate school and was one of the reasons she chose to pursue a doctorate in history. Most importantly, DED protected her from deportation.
Kiazolu told her story to the U.S. Judiciary Committee on Wednesday during a hearing to discuss TPS, DED protections, and “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States as children, some of whom are also DACA recipients.
“As the March 31, 2019 termination of DED approaches, my life remains in limbo. I have ahead of me opportunities that are unmatched and the termination has already begun to negatively impact my academic and professional development,” Kiazolu told the committee.
“If DED ends in 25 days, it will certainly interrupt my education by making it difficult to finish the research and writing necessary to graduate in 2019,” she continued.
“The termination will stunt my professional development by separating me from my academic and professional network and resources. Additionally, my finances, particularly student loans…will be negatively impacted because I will be unable to continue repayment due to my inability to work.”
She added that the stress caused health problems requiring her to “seek professional support from a therapist.”
Liberia was first granted TPS in the 1990s, at the height of its civil war. In 2007, President George W. Bush continued protections for Liberians under DED that were extended under President Barack Obama.
In March, President Donald Trump ended DED protections for Liberians, justifying the move by saying the country was no longer embroiled in armed conflict and had recovered from the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The Trump administration’s decision to unravel not only DED, but some TPS and DACA protections as well, has left over 310,000 immigrants in the lurch. This feeling of uncertainty is pronounced among Liberians, 4,000 of whom have less than a month to decide whether to return to a country where they have few ties, or risk being deported by the federal government.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, Liberians with DED have spent years in the United States, building their lives while following the law. Some are small business owners, faith leaders, and medical professionals. Without them, some communities may take a hit.
“We’re short of nurses and the demand is high,” Liberian immigrant and nurse Caroline Grimes told ThinkProgress last year. Grimes lives in Minnesota, the state with the largest Liberian population.
“My role is important and crucial to the…health of America,” she added. “With the shortage of nurses…[hospitals] may be affected too.”
On March 12, House Democrats plan to introduce the latest version of the DREAM Act to protect people like Grimes and Kiazolu. The bill, which was first introduced 18 years ago, would provide a path to permanent residency to all undocumented youth brought to the United States before the age of 17, and, for the first time ever, would include protections for the TPS and DED recipients as well.
“I have worked so hard to get here, and my family and community have supported me throughout my educational career,” Kiazolu said Wednesday. “…I want to be able to give back […] On behalf of other TPS and DED holders from Nepal to Haiti to Liberia, I appeal to Congress to create a permanent path to citizenship for us.”
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