Minnesota's health sector could suffer from a potential worker shortage if President Donald Trump ends long-standing protections for Liberian immigrants, Attorney General Keith Ellison argued Monday in a legal challenge to the administration's move.
Ellison is leading a coalition of 10 attorneys general attempting to block Trump from ending the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program, which has helped thousands of Liberians come to the United States to escape civil war since the early 1990s.
A group of plaintiffs affected by the decision sued Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen earlier this month, asking Massachusetts U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman for a nationwide preliminary injunction to prevent Trump from ending their legal protections. The administration has set a March 31 termination date for the program.
If Trump's decision stands, Liberians living in the U.S. under the program would have to return to their home country or be subject to deportation.
Trump determined that conditions had improved in the past year after decades of violence in the West African nation.
"The President's decision was based on an evaluation of appropriate factors and constituted a proper exercise of his constitutional authority" to conduct foreign affairs, wrote Joshua Kolsky, a Justice Department trial attorney representing the administration in the lawsuit.
Supporting the legal challenge, Ellison argued that Minnesota, which has one of the nation's largest Liberian communities, would see its health and social services industries harmed because many Liberians work in those sectors, which are already beset by worker shortages.
Minnesota is home to nearly 16,000 people who were born in Liberia or claim Liberian ancestry.
St. Therese, a Catholic nonprofit organization with facilities in five suburbs, recently announced that it could lose about a half dozen workers if the state's Liberians lose their special legal status.
Among them is Christina Wilson, a plaintiff in the Massachusetts lawsuit after having spent most of her 17 years in Minnesota working as a nursing assistant at St. Therese.
Wilson's story was cited in Ellison's brief, along with that of Moses Punni, a group production leader at Medtronic who fears leaving his 16-year-old daughter, a U.S. citizen, behind in Coon Rapids. Ellison also named Isabela Wreh-Fofana, a St. Paul nursing assistant who is concerned that her 23-year-old son will need a fourth open-heart surgery after they leave the U.S.
"I've led this coalition because when the Liberian community lives with dignity, safety and respect, as it has in Minnesota for decades, every Minnesota community thrives," Ellison said. "When the president won't protect Minnesotans, I'll use the powers of the attorney general to protect them."
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor