Judge in San Francisco Preserves Humanitarian Immigrant Protections, for Now

1 min
Plaintiffs Wilna Destin, a TPS holder from Haiti, and daughter Hnaida Cenemat, 15, before supporters outside the U.S. District court in San Francisco on Sept. 27, 2018. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Update, Wed. October 3, 7:18 p.m:

Federal judge Edward Chen halted deportations for over 300,000 non-citizens with humanitarian protections. Chen ruled Temporary Protected Status holders and their U.S. born children will "indisputably suffer irreparable harm and great hardship" if the Trump administration goes ahead with its decision to end TPS for nationals of El Salvador, Nicaragua Haiti and Sudan.

The preliminary injunction will be in effect until Chen rules on the class-action lawsuit brought against the government by TPS holders and their American children.

Original story:

A federal judge in San Francisco is considering whether to temporarily halt the Trump administration's elimination of humanitarian protections for more than 300,000 non-citizens from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.

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At a hearing this week, U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen appeared receptive to lawyers representing immigrants with Temporary Protected Status and their U.S. citizen children, who asked the judge to block deportations while their class action lawsuit is heard.

The plaintiffs claim the U.S. Department of Homeland Security broke practice with previous administrations and unlawfully ended the protections that have allowed immigrants to stay in the U.S. because of the disasters or war in their home countries. They argue the move was motivated by racial animus expressed by President Trump against non-white immigrants.

Ahilan Arulanantham, a plaintiff's lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told Chen that internal government documents show experts concluded the current conditions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan warranted extending the protections.

"If you take out the racial animus agenda, the result would have been continuing TPS for these countries," Arulanantham said.

During the two-hour-long hearing, Chen asked the attorney for the Department of Homeland Security about a newly disclosed document from 2017, in which then-DHS Secretary Elaine Duke wrote the TPS revocations were "the result of an America First view."

"This fact alone suggests an awareness and some concern (by Duke) about the president’s immigration policy and agenda," said Chen, who rejected the government's request to dismiss the lawsuit in June.

The government attorney, Adam Kirschner, said Duke considered opposing views and had the "ultimate decision" to revoke TPS.

"You'd expect input from the White House," Kirschner said. "The documents themselves shows a robust record of acting Secretary Duke looking at different sources with often conflicting perspectives."

Sara Ahmed, 12, holds a sign in Arabic and English in support of TPS on Sept. 26, 2018. Ahmed's parents are Sudanese and could lose the humanitarian protections in November. "I don’t know who would raise me. I don’t know what I’d do without them," she said. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Congress established Temporary Protected Status in 1990, allowing the secretary of Homeland Security to offer a reprieve from deportation to unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. following a natural disaster, civil war or other catastrophe in their country of origin. Currently, more than 400,000 people from 10 countries hold TPS.

About 1,000 Sudanese could lose their right to live and work in the U.S. on Nov. 2 and would be forced to leave the country or be subject to deportation. Protections for TPS holders from the other three countries are set to expire in 2019.

TPS beneficiary Ebtihal Abdalla, a teacher from Chicago, said the approaching deadline could split her family. The mother of two U.S. citizens, ages 12 and 18, said she doesn't want to take her daughters back to Sudan, a country struggling with civil war.

"I don't want that life for them," said 40-year-old Abdalla, fighting back tears outside the courthouse. She traveled to San Francisco to attend Tuesday's hearing.

An estimated 270,000 U.S. citizen children have parents who hold TPS. Many immigrants with the protections, particularly from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, have lived in the U.S. for over a decade and bought homes or own businesses here.

In the lawsuit, the five American children named as plaintiffs claim the loss of their parents' TPS will cause them "irreparable harm" and force them to grow up without one or both parents, or move to countries facing  extreme violence or poverty.

"If my mom loses her TPS I ... have nowhere else to go," said Hneida Cenemat, a 15-year-old plaintiff who traveled from Orlando, Florida, to attend hearing with her mother. "I can’t stay here without her, and I have school here. All my friends are here."

The plaintiffs want Chen to bar the government from rescinding the immigration status of TPS holders at least until their children are 18. They requested the judge issue a nationwide injunction to the termination of the program while the case is decided. Chen said he would rule "as soon as possible."

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