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Trump Administration To Cancel Program That Protects Some Liberians From Deportation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Trump administration is, once again, canceling a program that protects certain immigrants from deportation. And, once again, attorneys are suing. This time, Trump wants to end protections for thousands of Liberians who came to the U.S. to seek refuge from civil war that ravaged the country decades ago. From member station WBUR, Shannon Dooling has the story.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: Vestonia Viddy remembers hiding in the ceiling of her home in Liberia when the rebel forces came knocking. She was 8 years old at the time. The country was in the throes of civil war.

VESTONIA VIDDY: We packed up our stuff, and we left, and I never saw my father again. And we just fled.

DOOLING: She says the rebels made her father stay behind to care for their wounded. He was a doctor in the local hospital. He was missing for many years, and shortly after the family found him, he died of a stroke. Viddy, who is now 36, fled to neighboring Sierra Leone with her two siblings and pregnant mother. The family entered the U.S. on visitors visas, settling in Delaware. As Liberia's civil war raged on, Viddy and her family got humanitarian protection and have lived legally in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.

VIDDY: I mean, we're all just scared. We were able to have work authorization, protection from deportation all these years, and in a week, my entire family is going to be undocumented.

DOOLING: Last year, President Donald Trump announced Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, for Liberia will end on March 31. Trump says the country's decades-long civil war is over, and he pointed to the great strides the country's made in containing outbreaks following the 2014 Ebola crisis. Immigrant advocates have a very different view. The group Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit in Boston's federal court claiming the cancellation of the program for the African nation is racist. They see it as an attempt to forcibly remove nonwhite immigrants from the country. Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal heads up the group and hopes the legal fight will have widespread impact.

IVAN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: Shine a spotlight on the needs of black immigrant communities facing tremendous obstacles as a result of bigotry, discrimination and hate.

DOOLING: Trump has tried cancelling similar temporary humanitarian protections for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, though courts have put that on hold while legal challenges play out. Proponents of stricter immigration policy say these temporary programs were meant to be just that - temporary. Jessica Vaughan is policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies. Vaughan says ending these programs is just good policy, not racism.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Too many politicians have not had the will to end these programs even though the conditions that led to the designation of citizens of these countries for temporary protection have long been remedied.

DOOLING: In 2017, Liberia did experience its first peaceful transition of power since the civil war, but it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. Espinoza-Madrigal, the attorney fighting to keep the protections in place, insists conditions in the country remain unsettled at best.

ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: Our clients have been terrorized by the prospect of returning to a country that is unsafe and unable to receive them.

DOOLING: Many Liberian nationals fled the chaos in their country in terror. The prospect of returning to an uncertain future is raising fears all over again. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous version of the audio and this transcript mistakenly said that Vestonia Viddy’s father was killed. In fact, he was missing for many years and died of a stroke shortly after his family found him.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.