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Federal judge blocks Trump from ending protected status for some immigrants

The decision affects 300,000 people.

A federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration on Wednesday night from scrapping temporary protected status (TPS), a program that protects immigrants from countries ravaged by natural disasters, war, or epidemics. Pictured above: Joselyn Portillo, 20, a United States citizen, and her mother, Blanca Portillo, a refugee from El Salvador who is currently under TPS. (Photo credit: Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration on Wednesday night from scrapping temporary protected status (TPS), a program that protects immigrants from countries ravaged by natural disasters, war, or epidemics. Pictured above: Joselyn Portillo, 20, a United States citizen, and her mother, Blanca Portillo, a refugee from El Salvador who is currently under TPS. (Photo credit: Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Around 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Sudan, Haiti, and Nicaragua will no longer have to worry about the Trump administration ending their protected status — at least for the time being.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco blocked the administration on Wednesday night from scrapping temporary protected status (TPS), a program that protects immigrants from countries ravaged by natural disasters, war, or epidemics. The judge ruled the government must maintain TPS and recipients’ employment authorizations while a lawsuit challenging the government’s decision to eliminate protections continues.

“[…] Absent injunctive relief, TPS beneficiaries and their children indisputably will suffer irreparable harm and great hardship,” Judge Chen wrote. “TPS beneficiaries who have lived, worked, and raised families in the United States (many of them for over a decade), will be subject to removal.”

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Chen argued that the government hadn’t established what harm might be caused by allowing TPS beneficiaries to remain the U.S. while litigation is pending. The lawyers arguing on behalf of the immigrants, by contrast, established without dispute that local and national economies would suffer if hundreds of thousands of TPS holders were removed from the United States, effectively enacting a new form of family separation where parents who are TPS beneficiaries would be forcibly removed from their U.S.-born children.

The judge’s decision goes into effect immediately and is particularly great news for Sundanese TPS recipients, whose protections were set to expire on November 2 of this year.

One of those recipients is Hiwaida Elarabi, a Sudanese TPS holder and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the federal government. Over the last two decades, Elarabi has lived in the United States, earned a Master’s Degree, and achieved her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant, but was forced to sell her business after her legal status became uncertain.

She described Wednesday as a “really good day.”

“Up until yesterday, I was stressed that I might lose job and my legal status,” Elarabi told reporters on a call Thursday. “There are no good options for me if TPS is terminated. I am afraid to return to Sudan and I can cannot imagine living in the United States without a legal status.”

For all of Elarabi’s excitement, what TPS beneficiaries really want is a permanent fix for their status.

Jose Palma, a TPS recipient from El Salvador, said that while Wednesday’s decision brought him a lot of happiness, it was also provided “fuel to continue organizing.”

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“Last night’s decision is something temporary and the TPS community is organizing with our allies to ensure that TPS is transformed to permanent residency,” Palma said on the call. “TPS recipients are part of the fabric of this country.”

According to The New York Times, the court’s decision will likely be appealed by the Justice Department. DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement that the ruling “usurps the role of the executive branch in our constitutional order.”

“The Justice Department completely rejects the notion that the White House or the Department of Homeland Security did anything improper,” O’Malley said. “We will continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security.”

While previous administrations have extended the protections when they come up for renewal every few years, the Trump administration has argued that the initial conditions that necessitated a protected status in the first place are no longer applicable.

Judge Chen suggested in his decision that there is evidence the administration may have violated the Constitution when it made the decision to end TPS protections for countries with large non-white populations.

“There is also evidence that this may have been done in order to implement and justify a pre-ordained result desired by the White House,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs have also raised serious questions whether the actions taken by the Acting Secretary or Secretary [were] influenced by the White House and based on animus against non-white, non-European immigrants in violation of Equal Protection guaranteed by the Constitution.”

He added, “The issues are at least serious enough to preserve the status quo.”

The administration has not shied away from expressing its disdain toward Black and brown TPS holders in the past. In August, emails revealed Trump administration officials actively pushed for TPS to be terminated. President Trump himself described Haiti and several African nations as “shit hole” countries during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers to discuss TPS in January.

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.”

Stephen Miller, the president’s virulently anti-immigrant senior adviser, has also repeatedly pushed Homeland Security officials to end TPS.

Due to Wednesday night’s court filing, the administration is, for now, prevented from doing that.

According to attorneys, the government has 15 days to provide the court with an assurance that the status quo for TPS beneficiaries from Haiti, Sudan, El Salvador, and Nicaragua will be maintained.