Between approximately 1989 and 2003, thousands of Liberians sought refuge in the U.S. due to civil war and upheaval in their homeland. The Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program has allowed about 4,000 to remain in the U.S. instead of being deported.

Last year, President Trump indicated he would wind down the DED program, and many Liberians were afraid they would be separated from their American family members and sent to live in a country that is no longer recognizable to them.

Winding down the DED program was supposed to occur as of March 30, 2020, but a provision creating a path for citizenship was recently included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

This is the first time in decades that a group on temporary protected status has been given an opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency (a green card) and, ultimately, citizenship. President Trump signed the act into law in December.

Before the new law was passed, some Liberians were fighting the prospect of deportation in U.S. courts. According to Vox, one lawsuit argued that ending the DED program would be dangerous for the refugees because, even though the civil war is over, conditions have not improved sufficiently. Moreover, they argued that ending DED was essentially discrimination based on race and national origin.

Under the new law, Liberians who have lived in the U.S. since November 2014 can apply for green cards for themselves, their spouses and their unmarried children under 21. They will not be subjected to a “public charge” determination, which seeks to determine whether they will become dependent upon government assistance.

Five years after their green cards are granted, interested Liberians can then apply for U.S. citizenship.