WASHINGTON (AP) _ Alexander Collins has two homes: a new one in the U.S. where he wants to stay and one in Africa he wants to leave for good.
Collins, 34, has lived in St. Paul, Minn. on a series of temporary extensions since coming to the U.S. from Liberia about eight years ago. He said he was aware his status was temporary, but he rarely contemplated what might happen when it ended.
"My life is here,'' he said.
Collins is among 3,600 Liberians granted temporary protected status to settle in the U.S. while civil war ravaged their homeland. The war has ended and a fledgling democracy is taking hold. So President George W. Bush granted a final 18-month extension, which ends March 31.
For Collins, that could mean being uprooted from his job, his ministry and the place where he and his wife are raising their three children.
"Now it is so close, and we have a lot of uncertainty,'' Collins said. "This is approaching very quickly and we do not know if I can stay. We have a lot of fears about what it will mean.''
More than 250,000 Liberians live in the United States, with large concentrations in the Carolinas, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Kerper Dwanyen, the president of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, said the 3,600 who have temporary protected status might seem small, but it represents a disproportionate number of people like Collins who are primary providers for their families in both countries. Many have been in the United States as long as 15 years, he said.
Advocates for the affected Liberians remain hopeful that President Barack Obama will grant an additional 18-month extension in hopes that a solution granting permanent residency can be worked out in Congress.
No decision has been made on another extension, said Chris Rhatigan, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Temporary Protected Status, she said, was never meant to be a permanent solution.