President Clinton authorized a one-year extension yesterday that will allow Liberian refugees to stay in the United States until October 2001. The move came hours before they would have become illegal immigrants.
Some of the Liberians had received letters notifying them that they would be losing their jobs today.
Many view the president's action as a Band-Aid approach, and the wounds will be reopened again next year at this time.
"We are grateful to the president for giving us another extension but, you know, people cannot spend their whole lifetime living on extensions," said Torli Krua, president of the Liberian Community Association of Massachusetts. "Life is short."
More than 10,000 Liberians have been living in the United States since civil war broke out in their West African country Christmas Eve 1989. An estimated 4,000 of them live in New England.
The war ended in 1997, but the country and the region remain unstable.
"The president has determined that voluntarily returning Liberian refugees at this time could lead to further instability in their country or in the region," said P. J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Crowley said Clinton would welcome legislation to let the Liberians stay as U.S. residents.
The only way to solve the problem permanently would be for Congress to pass a law allowing Liberians to adjust from their deferred enforced departure status.
Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, has sponsored such a bill, which he is hoping will pass before the end of the session.