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FeaturesGeneralLiberia newsON 2ND THOUGHTOpinion

On 2nd Thoughts: Liberian Aliens and Nationality laws-what are we protecting?

By Othello B. Garblah

The sudden outburst of some Liberians, when it comes to debates surrounding the amendment of the country’s Aliens and Nationality Law to be specific getting rid of Article 27 (b), of the 1986 Constitution leaves much to be desired.

Article 27 (b) of the 1986 Constitution, a clause retained from the 1847 Constitution states: “In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values, and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”

This law on our nation’s statute books has become obsolete and is not in tune with current global reality it is nothing but a mere racist clause which is being used by a handful of people to foster their own political and economic agendas.

The law discriminates based on race; to say that only persons who are “Negro”, (black) regardless of whether they were born on Liberian soil, jus soli, or abroad to Liberian parents, jus sanguinis, “shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizen of Liberia,” is racist- plain and simple.

Understandably, this Negro clause was inserted from the founding of the colony as a refuge for free people of color, and later former slaves, to prevent economically powerful communities from obtaining political power but same has no relevance today.

Today, the law appears to be “protecting” a privileged few, as it were in 1876 during the colonial and slave period, against being flooded by immigrants and even diaspora Liberians.

In 2022, the law was amended to remove discrimination in granting citizenship to children born outside Liberia. However, the amended law retained the statutory attribution of citizenship to every child born in Liberia (if of “negro descent”); the 1986 Constitution, meanwhile, provides explicitly for attribution of citizenship at birth only if either the father or mother is a Liberian citizen.

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This law intends to prohibit dual citizenship for adults at all costs. A referendum to amend the Constitution to permit dual citizenship in all cases (among other propositions) failed in 2020, although many blame the past regime for not doing much to publicize the proposition.

The 2022 amendments to the law, albeit allow a Liberian citizen who acquires another citizenship to retain Liberian citizenship. This amendment comes on the heels of a 2019 Supreme Court decision which ruled that the statutory provision for automatic loss of citizenship was unconstitutional.

However, in the case of a person with one Liberian and one foreign parent, the Constitution requires the person to renounce the other citizenship when he or she turns 18 to retain his or her Liberian citizenship.

But who are we protecting?

Many of the arguments against getting rid of Article 27 (b), which when amended would permit persons of non-negro descent to acquire Liberian citizenship argued that indigenous Liberians are not yet economically empowered to compete with people of non-negro descent should they be allowed to acquire Liberian citizenship.

But like it or not, the supporters of this race law are the same who are leasing land and properties all over the place to Lebanese, Indians, and other nationals of non-negro descent, lining their pockets under the protection of such law, while the entire country lieth in poverty and underdevelopment.

So, in reality, the law seems to protect the powerful few who parade with this assertion that granting people of non-negro descent citizenship will rob indigenous Liberians of their rights to own land in urban areas, etc, simply because they lack the economic muscle. But even as it stands, indigenous Liberians do not have such economic muscle to compete with the privileged few who are earning millions in property and land leases to these non-negros. If the law were to be removed and these non-negros were allowed to own land, these people will go out of business. This is what they are trying to protect not the impoverished indigenous people-plain and simple. Like NGOs who thrived in crisis, they thrived in abject poverty.

The Musa Bility bill to amend the Aliens and Nationality law.

So last week, Nimba County District #7 Representative Musa Hassan Bility, presented a bill to the House, seeking to amend certain provisions of the Liberian Aliens and Nationality laws of 2022.

According to Rep. Bility, the Bill undertakes a general revision and modernization of these laws that he says are needed and long overdue, particularly concerning citizenship, immigration, and naturalization, and seeks to provide a policy that is in tune with the current global realities. Rep. Bility is right, but only if his colleagues would see the importance and what the impact of such an amendment will add to the economic growth and development of Liberia,  remains to be seen.

Rep. Bility’s bill seeks an improved version of the 2022 Alien and Naturalization law but also frowns on the existing Article 27 (b) which discriminates on who becomes a Liberian citizen and it also seeks its amendment.

The Bility bill recognizes the domestic and international significance of Liberian citizenship, immigration, and naturalization policies, and takes a step to improve existing laws to alleviate the perpetuation of division that hampers efforts being made to rally support for unification and decrease the repressive and inhumane aspects of immigration procedures by removing restrictions on citizenship of natural born Liberians and their children, removing unnecessary barriers to immigration and naturalization, and proposing alternative immigration and migration requirements.

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