Immigrants Groups Urge Biden To Fix Liberian Green Card Program

Biden administration today urging officials to fix critical flaws in the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) program.
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WASHINGTON — Nearly 150 immigrant rights organizations, led by the LRIF Strategy Group, sent a letter to the Biden administration today urging officials to fix critical flaws in the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) program.

The LRIF program’s historic significance as one of the few pathways to citizenship passed through Congress in decades — through a budget bill — specifically benefiting Black immigrants, is at risk of failure due to the USCIS processing delays, impossible to meet evidentiary requirements, lack of culturally competent outreach, and more.

“LRIF is historic for Black immigrants in its own right, but it is also a test case for the legalization of 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S.,” said Breanne Palmer, Interim Policy & Advocacy Director at the UndocuBlack Network. “If the Biden administration, DHS, and USCIS cannot successfully and equitably implement a program benefiting at most 10,300 people, how can they possibly fulfill the campaign promises of permanent protection for our larger community? It is high time for the Biden administration to treat LRIF with the urgency it deserves, and to deliver justice to the Liberians living in the U.S. who can benefit from it.”

In-person interview requirements, lengthy processing times, and distrust of a program passed under the Trump administration have made applicants reluctant to come forward and apply for the benefit. With approximately 5 months until the program’s deadline, data released by the Congressional Research Service on May 6, shows that out of 10,000 eligible individuals, the federal government has processed fewer than 800 applications. The current deadline for LRIF applications from eligible Liberians with deep roots in the U.S. is December 20. Advocates and applicants remain confused about how to apply and prove their eligibility for the program, despite improved language inserted into the USCIS Policy Manual in June 2021.

Many LRIF-eligible Liberians previously lived on temporary immigration statuses including both Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) due to two civil wars and the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. LRIF provides permanent status to eligible Liberians who have been in the U.S. since at least Nov. 20, 2014. It passed Congress as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, originally as a one-year program. But significant processing delays and burdensome requirements — requirements made impossible to meet because of the compounding COVID-19 pandemic — led advocates to fight for and secure a one-year extension.

The LRIF Strategy Group — a focused coalition of local, state, and national-level organizations that provide direct legal and other community-based services to Liberians in the United States including experts in USCIS operations, implementation issues, and Liberian cultural competency — have sent multiple sets of recommendations to the Biden administration to address the ongoing issues and ensure the program meets Congressional intent. Now, 149 organizations join the LRIF Strategy Group in calling on the Biden administration to do more to ensure the program is a success.

“As the December 20 deadline quickly approaches, we urge the administration to step up its efforts to ensure that LRIF is successful,” said Diana Konate, Policy Director at African Communities Together. “While we've been encouraged by some of the steps taken by USCIS, we remain disheartened that many of the previous administration's policies that we saw create barriers to the program continue under the Biden administration. Our Liberian community members continue to complain about onerous and confusing documentary requirements. We also have not seen outreach to and education of the Liberian community significantly improve. And it is completely unacceptable that USCIS has processed so few applications. Simply put, more needs to be done. And there is not much time. In addition to the recommendations to USCIS, we also call on Congress to eliminate the upcoming LRIF deadline. At this point, it serves no purpose.”

“While the Biden administration did not create all the issues in the LRIF program, it is responsible for fixing them,” said Lisa Parisio, Director of Advocacy at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. “Time is running out and we still need expansive, culturally competent outreach to get the Liberian community the information and other resources they need to apply. We also need USCIS to remove barriers and obstacles, such as incredibly burdensome and difficult to meet evidentiary requirements, which are blocking Liberians’ access to the program. While these are serious challenges, they are not insurmountable. The Biden administration has the choice to dedicate the resources and attention necessary to make LRIF a success and we are calling on them not to waste another minute.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

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