Federal judge, citing Trump racial bias, says administration can’t strip legal status from 300,000 Haitians, Salvadorans and others — for now
By Meagan Flynn
A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plans to terminate the legal status of about 300,000 immigrants who fled violence and disaster in Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
In a decision late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen in San Francisco found substantial evidence that the administration lacked “any explanation or justification” to end the “temporary protected status” designations for immigrants from those countries.
At the same time, he said there were “serious questions as to whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in the administration’s decision, which would violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
He cited statements by President Trump denigrating Mexicans, Muslims, Haitians and Africans, including his January remark about “people from shithole countries” and his June 2017 comments stating that 15,000 recent immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS.”
The plaintiffs “have raised serious questions whether the action taken” by Department of Homeland Security officials “was influenced by the White House and based on animus against nonwhite, non-European immigrants in violation of Equal Protection guaranteed by the Constitution,” Chen wrote. “The issues are at least serious enough to preserve the status quo.”
It is one of numerous cases in which such racial or ethnic comments or tweets by the president have been cited by judges to block administration policies, including on immigration and transgender people serving in the military.
In this case, Ramos v. Nielsen, and others, the judges have also cited deeply flawed decision-making by the administration and breaches of laws and regulations meant to prevent “arbitrary” acts by government.
The judge did not rule on the merits of the case but instead issued a preliminary injunction so the merits could be considered. The potential harm to the immigrants — returning to their countries of origin after spending years in the United States — outweighed any harm to the government, he said.
“Absent injunctive relief, TPS beneficiaries and their children indisputably will suffer irreparable harm and great hardship,” Chen wrote. “TPS beneficiaries who have lived, worked, and raised families in the United States (many for more than a decade), will be subject to removal. Many have U.S.-born children; those may be faced with the Hobson’s choice of bringing their children with them (and tearing them away from the only country and community they have known) or splitting their families apart.”
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement shortly after the decision that the administration would “continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security.” He said Chen’s decision “usurps the role of the executive branch in our constitutional order,” and he rejected “the notion that the White House or the Department of Homeland Security did anything improper.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern and Southern California, National Day Laborer Organizing Network and private law firm Sidley Austin filed the lawsuit in March on behalf of TPS beneficiaries who could face deportation as a result of the Trump administration’s actions.
In announcements in fall 2017 and early 2018, the DHS said it planned to terminate the temporary protected status of immigrants from Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador, claiming the life-threatening conditions that caused the immigrants to flee no longer existed.
But Chen found the plaintiffs presented a “substantial record” showing that DHS’s decision to change various criteria affecting the TPS program were “without any explanation or justification,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to make orderly decisions based on reasoned judgment and evidence and in conformity with the laws and the Constitution.
Instead, it appeared that senior administration officials ignored credible evidence that it would not be safe to send thousands of people back to those countries so that the administration could carry out Trump’s “America First” immigration agenda, the judge said. Rather than making decisions based on what the evidence showed, Chen found that the administration appeared to make its decisions based on a “preordained result desired by the White House.”
“I think everyone already knows the Trump administration has really callous policies when it comes to deportation,” said Jessica Karp Bansal, co-legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “But this case is not only about deportation. This is about the Trump administration taking away legal status from people who held it for decades. And that is because of racial animus toward those people.”
“We are your neighbors, your teachers, physicians, scientists, business owners. We are in all aspects of life here in the U.S.,” she said, “and we have been in society for so long. It is home for us here. We don’t know another home than here.”
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