On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, a law that provides a path to U.S. citizenship for certain Liberian nationals and their family members.
Generally, this law provides that Liberian nationals who have been continuously physically present in the United States since November 20, 2014, may apply to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”). In other words, these Liberian nationals may now apply for a Green Card, even if they previously had no path to long-term residency. Additionally, the law provides that eligible Liberians’ spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters over 21 may also apply for a Green Card.
Fortunately, Liberians are deemed to maintain continuous physical presence if they have been outside the United States since November 20, 2014, for 180 days or fewer in the aggregate.
Unfortunately, however, this law contains additional restrictions. First, Liberians have only one year to apply under this law, so all applications must be received by December 20, 2020. Second, Liberians must be otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa and, subject to limited exceptions, admissible as an LPR. Finally, Liberians are ineligible to adjust their status if they have an aggravated felony conviction; two convictions for a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), other than for purely political offenses; or if they have ever persecuted another person.
This law provides that eligible Liberians may apply even if they are subject to an order of exclusion, deportation, removal, or voluntary departure. Perhaps uniquely, Liberians subject to these orders need not file a motion to reopen at the administrative level. Rather, if the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) grants the adjustment application, the former order is automatically canceled. Additionally, Liberians who are currently in removal proceedings are entitled to a stay of removal after they have applied to adjust their status under this new law.
Further, this law provides that Liberians who apply for adjustment may apply for work authorization while the adjustment application is pending. If the application has been pending for more than 180 days, this grant of work authorization becomes mandatory.
Finally, applicants under this law are entitled to the same administrative review as applicants for adjustment of status under INA § 245, as well as persons in removal proceedings under INA § 240. Judicial review is limited to constitutional claims and questions of law under 5 U.S.C. § 704.