The Trump administration can end humanitarian protections that have allowed hundreds of thousands of people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan to stay in the United States, a divided appeals court ruled on Monday.
Although an appeal is imminent and the departure orders only take effect for months, the decision has brought many people closer to losing their legal status, including families who have been in the United States for decades and have young children who are US citizens.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a preliminary injunction that prevented the government from ending Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for people in these four countries affected by natural disasters and civil strife.
The order also applies to beneficiaries in Honduras and Nepal, who have sued separately but are subject to Monday’s ruling under an agreement between lawyers for the two sides, said Ahilan Arulanantham, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which advocated on behalf of TPS Holders.
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Since 1990, the policy has granted temporary legal status, which is often extended. But the Trump administration decided to end it for several countries, saying the conditions that justified the protections in America no longer existed.
This decision was put on hold even as President Donald Trump decided to restrict other forms of humanitarian status in the United States, such as the resettlement of refugees and access to asylum.
A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., Rejected arguments that the administration had failed to follow proper procedures and that racially motivated comments by the president and his aides about some of the countries had motivated the decision to end the TPS.
The ACLU noted that in 2017 Trump said recent immigrants from Haiti all had AIDS and that Nigerians, once visiting the United States, would never return to their huts in Africa.
White House pressure on Homeland Security leaders to end the TPS did not prove racial motivation and was neither unusual nor inappropriate, wrote Judge Consuelo Callahan, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. She noted that the administration has extended TPS to other non-white, non-European countries.
While we do not tolerate the offensive and derogatory nature of the President’s remarks, we find it instructive that these statements have occurred primarily in remote contexts and unrelated to TPS policy or rulings, Callahan wrote.
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Judge Ryan Nelson, appointed by Trump, issued a concurring opinion. Judge Morgan Christen, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, has expressed his dissent.
The ACLU will appeal to the 9th full circuit and, depending on the outcome, may ask the Supreme Court to take the case, Arulanantham said.
If the ruling holds, those longtime legal residents who were welcomed to the United States because their countries were mired in violence or natural disasters could be removed, the ACLU said. Because they have several hundred thousand American children, many of whom are of school age, this move would force these families to tear themselves apart. The Justice Department welcomed the ruling, saying claims that the TPS rulings were racially motivated were without merit.
People in Honduras, Nepal, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan could be forced to leave as early as March 5, Arulanantham said. Salvadorans would have until November 5, 2021, under a separate pact between the US and Salvadoran governments.
The end result often depends on the presidential election. Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden has promised an immediate TPS review and said he will pursue legislation to keep long-term residents in the United States and apply for citizenship.
More than 4.00,000 people in 10 countries have protected status, including some 250,000 from El Salvador, according to the Congressional Research Service. El Salvador first obtained the TPS in 2001 after earthquakes displaced large parts of the population.
Honduras has around 80,000 TPS recipients, followed by Haiti with 55,000, Nepal with almost 15,000, Nicaragua with around 4,500, and Sudan with less than 1,000.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who has worked closely with Trump on immigration, wrote on Twitter after the ruling that there was “enough time to ask our allies for a permanent solution, or at least another solution. Immigrant groups were quick to condemn the move.
This is devastating news not only for families losing their protected status, but also for their communities, said Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum. TPS recipients have deep economic and social roots in communities across the country.
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