Deporting Our Liberian Nurses and Neighbors

#StandOnEveryCorner in St. Paul

#StandOnEveryCorner in St. Paul

Vestonia Viddy is afraid. She should be. The President of the United States wants to break up her family and send her back to the country she left at the age of eight, away from the home she has made over the past 30 years.

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, and the country was in the throes of its first civil war….

“She says the rebels made her father, who was a doctor in the local hospital, stay behind to care for their wounded. It was years later that the family learned of his death.

“Viddy, who is now 36, fled to neighboring Sierre 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 continued receiving a patchwork of temporary humanitarian protections — living legally in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.

“I mean, we’re all just scared,” she says. “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.”

Many Liberians came to the United States as refugees, more than 20 years ago, fleeing a civil war in their country. First, they were given Temporary Protected Status. Then that changed to Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Both statuses gave work permission and temporary status, but no path to permanent residence or citizenship. The changes and extensions were affirmed by president after president. Until now.

Liberia is connected to the United States, born of a 19th century colonization program that sent free Black Americans “back to Africa” to found a country.  The United States government today is as little inclined to welcome Liberians as the United States back then was to live with its own free Black citizens. Trump has canceled the last program allowing them to live and work here, effective Sunday, March 31.

Here’s what you can do: Call Congress: 213-335-2192
Sample Script for Calls:
“I am calling because you have the power to tell the White House to reinstate Deferred Enforced Departure known as DED. Liberian DED will end on March 31st removing immigration protection and work permits from up to 4000 Liberian-Americans. They are a part of our communities in the U. S.Tell the president to reinstate DED.”

Want to do more? Visit

Teanke Tarwai is a Minnesota nurse who has lived here since the early 1990s. Like thousands of other Minnesota health care workers, she is an immigrant. Now she faces an end to her work permit and her driver’s license and the life she and her husband have built here. Not only will the end of DED destroy lives built here by immigrant families, but it will also remove health care workers caring for elderly and disabled Minnesotans.

At St. Therese senior care facilities across the Twin Cities, Liberians serve hundreds of residents food, administer medical care and clean.

“Yet 150 of them — roughly one-fifth of the organization’s workforce — are set to lose their jobs by April, after President Donald Trump ends their temporary legal status.

“The looming elimination of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program involves more than tearful stories of family separations as many Liberians return to West Africa after decades in the United States. It also will have a dramatic effect on Minnesota’s health care industry.

“Our staff are an extension of their family,” said Fisher of the elderly residents. “They have relationships with them. It’s taking a huge part of them away.”

Some Liberians threatened by the end of DED sued in Boston, saying that Trump’s decision and action are unconstitutional because they are based on racism and national origin discrimination. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined other attorneys general in an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit.

Other Minnesotans have joined in the chorus of voices demanding a more humane government response.

Minnesota Representative Kao Ly Her joined other Minnesota legislators in a letter to the president urging protection for Liberians with DED:

“It is our moral responsibility to protect the Liberian Minnesotans who have lived, worked, and raised families here. Minnesota has an estimated 4,000 Liberians living in our communities. They will be forced to leave the United States at the end of the month if the President doesn’t extend Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) for Liberians who moved here as refugees nearly 30 years ago.  This week I signed on to a letter urging the President to protect the Liberian neighbors who contribute to our economy and our communities.”

The Star Tribune editorialized:

“An estimated 30,000 Liberian immigrants and first-generation residents live, work and go to school in Minnesota. Some have been here legally for two to three decades and have raised families, bought homes, started businesses and paid taxes here for years.

“Yet thousands of them could become illegal immigrants subject to deportation if federal action isn’t taken this week. That would be an unjust, inhumane way to treat a community that has contributed so much to the state’s economy and society.”

Ruben Rosario told the stories of several of Minnesota’s Liberian immigrants in his St. Paul Pioneer Press column, including Isabella Wreh-Fofana:

Isabella Wreh-Fofana, also of St. Paul, who reluctantly acknowledged to me she is in her 50s, is one such worker. Along with her husband and her then-7-year-old chronically ill son, Wreh-Fofana left Liberia in 2002 under the TPS program to escape a bloody conflict that claimed her father’s life.

“She has worked as a nursing assistant for the past 15 years. Her husband, Lusienie, works as a custodian. Her son, L.Nyensuathee, 24, diagnosed here in Minnesota with a serious cardiac condition, is facing a fifth heart-related surgery in several months.

“All three face deportation if next week’s deadline goes into effect. If her son goes back, “he will surely die,” she said, because of a lack of medical care resources.

Rosario explains that DED is governed not by a law passed by Congress, but simply by presidential discretion. He urges: “Trump, do the right thing.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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