The special immigration classification that has permitted several thousand Liberians to live in the U.S. -- but not to become either legal permanent residents or citizens -- expires March 31. After that, they must either leave voluntarily or face mass deportation.
The Liberians have faced this deadline before. Since 1991, when they fled civil strife in their country and were granted temporary protected status, they have been granted at least eight extensions. People from six other countries also have been granted temporary protection and multiple reprieves. Last year, extensions were granted for Hondurans and Nicaraguans who arrived in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and Salvadorans who fled massive earthquakes.
Created by Congress in 1990 for immigrants whose home countries were unsafe because of war, civil strife or natural disaster, the temporary protected status designation was never meant to provide a route to permanent residency. But in the years that followed, the U.S. repeatedly failed to stick to that fundamental premise.
As a result, this well-intentioned humanitarian program has come to exemplify the worst of our immigration system's unintended effects, exacerbating diplomatic tensions and raising false hopes among those it is intended to protect. It leaves immigrants in perpetual limbo, hurts employers of temporary residents and dismays immigration foes when deadlines are extended.