Understanding the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act

Featured

The passage of the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act ends nearly 30 years of “temporary” status for thousands of Liberians. Signed into law on December 20, 2019, LRIFA provides a singular ray of hope in an otherwise bleak immigration landscape.

LRIFA means that many Liberians who have lived in limbo may now move forward toward permanent residence and citizenship. But while the law has generous eligibility requirements, its short filing window means Liberians need to act quickly to assess their eligibility.

Who is eligible?

  1. Any Liberian national who has been continuously present in the United States during the period beginning November 20, 2014 and the date on which the application under LRIFA is filed or
  2. The spouse, child, or unmarried son or daughter of a person described in (1).

When can I file my application? 

USCIS announced that it has begun accepting LRIFA applications as of December 26, 2019. All applications must be filed within 1 year of the date of LRIFA’s enactment or no later than December 19, 2020.

I was on Ebola TPS. Am I eligible?

Any Liberian who has been continuously present in the United States during the period beginning November 20, 2014 and the date you file your application is eligible.

I have DED or DACA or am on a valid non-immigrant visa (F-1, H-1B, etc.) right now. Am I eligible?

Any Liberian who has been continuously present in the United States during the period beginning November 20, 2014 and the date you file your application is eligible.

I’m not on DED now. I never had TPS. Am I eligible?

Any Liberian who has been continuously present in the United States during the period beginning November 20, 2014 and the date you file your application is eligible.

I have traveled outside the United States. Will I still be eligible?

Possibly. You must have been “continuously present” in the United States between November 20, 2014 and the date you apply under LRIFA. You have been “continuously present” even if you have made a few short trips outside the United States. If your trips add up to more than 180 days outside the United States you will not be eligible.

Can I travel now?

The LRIFA does not give you permission to come into the country. If you leave, you may not be able to return. Check with an immigration lawyer before leaving the United States.

I have a criminal history. Will I still be eligible?

Possibly, but you should check with an immigration lawyer before filing any papers. You will not be eligible if you have been convicted of any aggravated felony or two or more crimes involving moral turpitude.

I took part in the Liberian civil war. Will I be eligible?

Possibly, but you should check with an immigration lawyer before filing any papers. The LRIFA says that anyone who has ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion is not eligible for a green card under the LRIFA.

I have a final order of deportation. What do I need to do?

The LIRFA is clear that DHS must establish a process to “stay” (stop) any LIRFA applicant’s removal order while the application is pending. That means that once you file your LIRFA application, you cannot be deported unless your LIRFA application is denied.

If you were ordered deported because your asylum application was denied, you overstayed your visa, you did not renew your DED or TPS, for other reasons besides a criminal conviction, you should be eligible under the LRIFA. You will not need to file a motion to reopen. If you were ordered deported because of a criminal conviction, you might not be eligible. Talk to an immigration lawyer before you file anything.

I am in detention with a final order of deportation. What should I do?

We do not expect ICE to attempt to deport people who are eligible for LIRFA. Liberians in detention who may be eligible for LIRFA should:

  • Tell your detention officer that you intend to apply for LIRFA.
  • Contact your immigration attorney to make a plan for filing the application as soon as possible. If you do not have an immigration attorney, contact the free legal service providers who work at your detention center or call 612-341-9845.
  • Make sure a trusted family member or friend knows where you are. They can check the ICE Online Detainee Locator with your full name and date of birth or A-number.

I do not have a work permit right now. Can I work under LRIFA?

Once you file your LRIFA application you will be able to apply for employment authorization. DHS may issue you a work permit right away. If your LRIFA application for adjustment of status is pending for a period exceeding 180 days and has not been denied, DHS must authorize employment.

How can I get ready to file my LRIFA application?

  • Save money. You will need to pay the filing fee and a biometrics fee. At this time the fee is $1,225 for an adult, and the fees are scheduled to increase (make sure to check the USCIS.gov website for up-to-date filing fee information when you are ready to file). You will also need an immigration medical exam, which may not be covered by insurance.
  • Gather proof of continuous presence. You will need to show that you have been “continuously present” in the United States as of November 20, 2014. USCIS will provide more instructions about what you will need, but you will likely need copies of some documents like pay stubs, leases, or other records showing you were in the United States. If you traveled outside the United States, you will need to calculate the exact number of days you were outside the country.
  • Make a list of your addresses and your employers from the last 5 years. The application form asks for this information.
  • If you ever filed for asylum, get a copy of that application and have an immigration lawyer review it before you file.

Do I need a lawyer?

You should talk with an experienced immigration lawyer or BIA accredited representative if you have any questions about how to file your application or whether you are eligible for LRIFA adjustment. Every case is different, so do not rely on advice given to someone else. Get your own answers before you file.

  • Criminal convictions may affect your eligibility for LRIFA adjustment. Talk to a lawyer before you file.
  • What you said in your asylum application may affect your eligibility for LRIFA adjustment. Talk to a lawyer before your file.

How do I find an immigration lawyer?

  • You can hire a lawyer to prepare and file your application and help respond to any questions from USCIS. You can also consult with a lawyer to answer questions. Different lawyers charge different fees. Ask about fees before you agree to have the lawyer represent you. Ask whether they charge a flat fee or charge by the hour. Ask about payment plan options. Always get a fee agreement (sometimes called a retainer agreement) in writing. Take time to review it before signing. You can find immigration lawyers at www.ailalawyer.com
  • Free legal services may be available if you have a low income. You can find free and low-cost legal services at www.immigrationlawhelp.org. We know our colleagues at the Black Immigrant Collective will be organizing events in Minnesota. Watch for community legal advice clinics near you.

Where do I find forms and filing instructions?

The federal government’s website is the best place to find accurate information about filing your LRIFA application. Check www.uscis.gov/i-485. Each tab on the page contains specific information about LRIFA applications.

Note: This blog is not legal advice. Every case is different. Please consult with an experienced immigration attorney before making any decision about your case.

Letter from Liberia

Liberia 20-21 January 2013 020

By Amy Bergquist

Life can be a heavy load in post-conflict Liberia, a country torn apart by a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. What happened to a little girl, Olivia, evidences the toll of human rights abuses in that country, as reported to The Advocates’ “Team Liberia” while we were in Liberia in January conducting needs assessments with that country’s human rights organizations.

Olivia, at age 7, was reportedly raped by her 20-year-old cousin in 2005. The rape wasn’t reported to authorities until three years later when the girl’s uncle discovered his niece gravely ill and family members told him about the crime. The uncle took Olivia to Monrovia for medical care. The cousin was arrested.

A heavy price was paid for the uncle breaking the silence: The family shunned Olivia and her mother. The ostracism they suffered compelled Olivia’s mother to drop all charges, and the cousin was released.

The flag of Liberia is a reminder of the long history between that country and the United States.
The flag of Liberia is a reminder of the long history between that country and the United States.

Olivia had multiple surgeries to attempt to repair a severe fistula, as well as to treat infections and malnutrition. Liberia’s Gender Ministry paid for Olivia’s medical care, but the delayed medical care was inadequate. Last year, Olivia, at age 13, died of injuries related to her rape. A documentary film called Small Small Thing features Olivia’s story.

As the brutality suffered by Olivia demonstrates, Liberia, like other post-conflict states, is confronted with more than shifting discourse from “bullets to ballots.” While the country returned to a democratically-elected government when the war ended, work remains because post-conflict states must rebuild their nations and rebuild their civil societies, as we were told many times during our interviews.

The Liberian Electoral Commission in Monrovia
The Liberian Electoral Commission in Monrovia

Child rape is one urgent human rights issue Liberian organizations cited during our interviews. Liberians took steps to respond when, on December 10, 2012—Human Rights Day, Liberia’s National Independent Commission on Human Rights launched a year-long campaign, Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia: My Voice Counts.

Commissioner Ruby Johnson-Morris, who is spearheading the initiative, explained to Team Liberia that child rape is on the increase in Liberia, with some victims as young as six-years-old. Doctors Without Borders reports that, in 2011, a staggering 92% of patients receiving care for rape in Liberia were under age 18.

Refreshment stand outside the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Liberia
Refreshment stand outside the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Liberia

Commissioner Johnson-Morris explained that one obstacle to addressing the problem is the desire of victims’ families to resolve the issue “the family way,” by reaching a “compromise” with the perpetrator and not publicly acknowledging the crime. One only needs to think of Olivia to know that such informal settlements can have tragic consequences.

As the photos below show, we saw beautiful children in Liberia, many of whom are experiencing extreme poverty in one of Africa’s poorest countries. Their smiles and playfulness inspired us. Just as inspirational are the many organizations we met with in Liberia that are devising creative ideas to protect and promote the human rights of Liberian children as their country rebuilds from its legacy of civil war.

The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips (left) with Commissioners Boikai Dukuley (center) and Ruby Johnson-Morris (right) at the National Independent Commission on Human Rights
The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips (left) with Commissioners Boikai Dukuley (center) and Ruby Johnson-Morris (right) at the National Independent Commission on Human Rights
20130211_144258
A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia (1)

We met with 30 organizations and individuals in Liberia involved in a wide range of human rights efforts around the country. This work is part of The Advocates’ Africa Advocacy Project to support local organizations in Africa with pro bono legal assistance involving pro bono lawyers to advance human rights and the rule of law through projects a country’s local organizations identify and lead.

Our work in Liberia kicked off a series of in-country visits. During the first three months of 2013, The Advocates’ staff and volunteer attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels are traveling to Morocco, Cameroon, and Tanzania, in addition Liberia, to conduct in-country needs assessments with local human rights organizations.

A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia
A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia (2)

Members of Team Liberia include Faegre volunteer attorney Jim O’Neal; Robin Phillips, The Advocates’ Executive Director; and me, The Advocates’ International Justice Staff Attorney.

The Advocates has a long history with the Liberian people. We represent asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Liberia and, from 2006-2009, we worked with Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to incorporate the experiences of the Liberian diaspora—those who had fled the conflict—into the Commission’s historical record.

Minnesota is now home to the largest concentration of Liberians outside of West Africa, and the enduring ties between Liberia and The Advocates’ home state of Minnesota was evident in Team Liberia’s meetings—and even at street vendor stands advertising “Minnesota Ice and Water.”

For more information on Liberia’s history and the effects of the country’s civil war on the Liberian diaspora, read A House with Two Rooms, The Advocates’ final report to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Liberian boys playing a roadside game of
Liberian boys playing a roadside game of “check up.”
Liberian children dancing and drumming at a roadside stand
Liberian children dancing and drumming at a roadside stand
A Liberian girl street vendor
A Liberian girl street vendor

Liberia 20-21 January 2013 025

Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney in the International Justice Program.

All photos by the author.