SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Citing President Donald Trump’s racist immigration policies, immigrants from Honduras and Nepal sued the United States in a federal class action Monday to stop the scheduled deportation of 100,000 Honduran and Nepali immigrants temporarily authorized to live and work in the United States.
It is the second class action filed in San Francisco federal court challenging Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel temporary protected status, or TPS, for immigrants who face dangerous conditions in their home countries.
This past October, the federal judge overseeing the first suit, Ramos et al. v. Nielsen et al., temporarily blocked the administration’s decision to terminate TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, finding the decision was racially motivated. The case is stayed pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
“All of us have a fear, and we are mostly afraid of the retaliation we can face at taking steps, but we have to fight,” Donaldo Posadas, one of the plaintiffs and a bridge painter in Baltimore, said in a news conference Monday morning. “I don’t want my children to go back to Honduras, a country they don’t know, where the quality of life will be different, and where the situation is dangerous.”
Similar to Ramos, Monday’s suit claims the administration unlawfully changed the criteria for making TPS designations out of “racial animus” toward immigrants of color. The 37-page complaint offers a litany of Trump’s racist statements to support the allegation, including recent reports that Trump mispronounced “Nepal” as “nipple” and Bhutan as “button” during a national security briefing, and that he is “known to fake an Indian accent to imitate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Oval Office meetings.”
The complaint also references a January 2018 White House meeting in which Trump infamously called TPS-designated countries “shithole[s]” and expressed a preference for immigrants from countries “like Norway.”
The TPS statute was established by Congress in 1990 as a form of humanitarian relief. Under it, every prior administration has considered all country conditions, including the impact of natural disasters and armed conflict, when deciding to continue or terminate a TPS designation.
But the plaintiffs claim the Trump administration without explanation changed the rules for making TPS designations to consider only the event that triggered a country’s original TPS designation, like the magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal that killed 9,000 people and injured another 20,000 in April 2015.
“It’s a disgrace,” Jessica Bansal, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who represents the class, said by phone. “There was tremendous political pressure to conclude that TPS should be terminated for these countries, and as part of that pressure, [the Department of Homeland Security] changed the standard for looking at TPS.”
Bansal says documents unearthed in TPS cases filed around the country and through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal the Trump administration decided to end TPS for the countries at issue to achieve Trump’s “America First” immigration policy of reducing the number of non-white immigrants in the United States.
In one of these documents, from November 2017, then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said “[t]he TPS program must end for these countries soon,” and that “[t]his conclusion [was] the result of an America first view,” according to the plaintiffs. Other records show that former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert “put massive pressure” on Duke to terminate TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua because it was an obstacle to Trump’s “wider strategic goal” on immigration.
In an amicus brief filed last week in the Ramos appeal, the Anti-Defamation League explains the concept of “America First” has been used to incite anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States since the early 1900s. In the 1920s, it appeared on banners at Ku Klux Klan parades reading, “America First, One God, One Country, One Flag,” and alongside the words “White Supremacy,” the league says. And it was used during World War II by groups that sympathized with Nazi Germany or opposed U.S. involvement in the war.
“[W]hile the government claims that the phrase ‘America First’ refers to ‘merit-based entry’ into the United States and ‘focuses on America’s interests foremost,’ its pernicious and well-documented history as an expression of racial animus show, quite clearly, otherwise,” the league said in its brief.
Monday’s suit includes Administrative Procedure Act and equal protection claims, and two due process claims brought separately by TPS holders and by their U.S.-citizen children.
Many of these children are school-aged and “face an impossible choice between leaving the only home they have ever known and growing up without one or both of their parents,” the complaint says.
“When you bring in the impact on the kids, it’s heartbreaking,” Bansal said. “To suddenly be faced with this choice is just heartbreaking.”
In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford defended the administration’s TPS rules.
“Temporary Protected Status is temporary—and it is given on a purely discretionary basis,” Stafford said. “The Secretary’s decision to terminate TPS for Honduras and for Nepal was both lawful and reasonable. Hondurans were given TPS due to a hurricane that happened 20 years ago. Nepalese were given TPS because of an earthquake in 2015. We look forward to defending the Department of Homeland Security’s determination in court.”
Right now, 15,000 Nepali immigrants are set to lose TPS protection in June 2019, and 85,000 Honduran immigrants in January 2020, according to Bansal.
The TPS program covers more than 400,000 people living in the United States. If the administration’s decisions take effect, 98 percent of TPS holders will lose protection, according to the suit.
The class is also represented by the ACLU of Southern California and by the law firm Sidley Austin in Los Angeles.