MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It looks like thousands of Liberians living in Minnesota will get to stay here.

Many of them were granted legal status in the United States in response to the Liberian Civil War. But that status doesn’t last forever. Now that could be changing.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House passed the Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Tina Smith says that would keep those Liberians here. It would give them permanent status and a path to citizenship.

“They are people who came here legally, and then when their visa expired they were unable to go back to Liberia because it was unsafe,” Smith said. “There was such a level of violence and they have been living in limbo for, in some cases, decades.”

The Senate is expected to pass the bill on Monday, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

About 16,000 Liberians live in Minnesota. The state has one of the highest populations.

From the faith to the food, Liberians have made a footprint in Minnesota culture. Jerome Butler was born in Liberia

“Liberians have a strong history in Minnesota. Most of us moved here, at least my parents because of opportunity, jobs,” Butler said.

His runs Mama T’s restaurant in Brooklyn Park, and his mother runs the kitchen. His cousin, Makia Camara, runs the register.

“It’s a Liberian family affair. I came here when I was 14, been here ever since,” Camara said.

Many of his customers are Liberian, too, and many have reason to celebrate — now that lawmakers are expected to give thousands more Liberians permanent status.

“There’s a lot of chatter, a lot of excitement going around for obvious reasons, because a lot of Liberians in this situation have been here a long time, so even though they may not have their status ironed out, they may not want to go back,” Butler said.

According to Minnesota Compass, 45% of Liberians in Minnesota have some college education. Many work in healthcare, and soon many more Liberians will be here to stay.

“Helps the diversity in Minnesota. We have people [from] all walks of life, and it’s really important to have us around because there’s a lot of Liberian stores around here,” Camara said. “People love Liberian food.”

And Butler says it’s good for business.

“The more people we have around here, the better,” he said.

The new bill also allows thousands of Liberians a five-year path to citizenship.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield