Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated the gender of a Liberian migrant who will lose her deportation protections.
President Trump announced on Tuesday he will end a special immigration program that has allowed nearly 4,000 Liberians to legally live and work in the U.S. over the past 25 years.
The decision follows the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. They will have to return to their countries as deadlines for each country approach in the next 18 months.
Now, Liberians will face the same decision: whether to leave the country or risk becoming undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
Liberians were first granted TPS in March 1991 under former President George H.W. Bush due to armed conflicts that were gripping the country. Starting in 1999, Liberians were transferred into a separate program called Deferred Enforced Departure, a classification that allowed them to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
That status was approved several times by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the country grappled with a civil war, ongoing armed conflicts, and an outbreak of the Ebola virus. But on Tuesday, after consulting with the departments of State and Homeland Security, Trump concluded that those conditions had been largely resolved.
Liberians will have 12 months to get their affairs in order and return to their home country.
"I have been informed that conditions in Liberia have improved," Trump wrote in a presidential memorandum. "Liberia is no longer experiencing armed conflict and has made significant progress in restoring stability and democratic governance. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease caused a tragic loss of life and economic damage to the country, but Liberia has made tremendous progress in its ability to diagnose and contain future outbreaks of the disease."
That summary, however, ignores the ongoing problems facing Liberia and the contributions that Liberians have made while living in the U.S., said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
Atkinson also said the decision must be viewed in the context of Trump referring to African nations as "shithole countries."
"Allowing Liberians to remain in the United States until their country can safely welcome them home is a matter of human decency," Atkinson said. "The president's crude comments about African nations are fresh in our memories. This is another racially motivated step to dismantle our humanitarian immigration program."
Rose Knuckles Bull, a Liberian who has been living in New York under the program, said her years of work for a fire department and a voter registration office will be tossed aside if she's forced to return to a country she hasn't seen for nearly a quarter century.
"It would be unfair to force us to return to Liberia without anything, and start all over again at this age," she said.
The administration is still facing decision on temporary protected status for several nations, including 57,000 Hondurans. They are facing a July deadline before their status expires. The Trump administration is expected to announce its decision on their status in the coming months.