Haitians, Salvadorans Contest Rollback of Protected Status

BOSTON (CN) – Eight Haitians and Salvadorans here with temporary protected status claim in a federal complaint that “racial animus” tainted President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the immigration program.

Represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the immigrants brought their suit on Feb. 22 with the group Centro Presente, a Massachusetts-based activist and support organization for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Salvadorans have enjoyed protected status in the United States since a 2001 earthquake ravaged the nation, and Haitians received the status after a 2010 earthquake.

Centro Presente says conditions in Haiti and El Salvador “are nothing short of extreme and, in many ways have only worsened over time.”

The group contends that these truths went ignored when two Homeland Security officials announced in November 2017 and January 2018, respectively, that improved conditions in Haiti and El Salvador justified removal of protected status.

The change would leave hundreds of thousands of immigrants eligible for removal.

For the challengers, Trump’s stated reasons for terminating protected status for Haitians and Salvadorans is “a thin and pretextual smokescreen for a racially discriminatory immigration agenda — one that the president has been astonishingly blunt about articulating.”

“President Trump has long made clear his dislike and disregard for Latino and black immigrants, including equating Latino immigrants with rapists, asserting that African immigrants who have seen America would never ‘go back to their huts,’ and saying a group of Haitian immigrants ‘all have AIDS,’” the complaint states. “Most recently, in discussing immigration policy with Congressional leaders in January 2018, he referred to Haiti and other TPS nations as ‘shithole countries,’ further driving home the racial motive by saying that the United States should let in more immigrants from Norway instead. The animus directed towards Latino and black immigrants is a clear and unfortunate thread running throughout President Trump’s statements — and is actualized by his administration’s policies, such as the ones challenged by this lawsuit.”

America is home to about 242,900 Salvadorans and 93,500 Haitians with temporary protected status, according to a study from the Journal of Migration and Human Security, which the complaint cites.

“Termination of TPS for El Salvador and Haiti would wreak havoc on lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” the complaint states. “As the individual plaintiffs’ experiences reflect, entrepreneurs will lose their business; property owners will lose their family homes; and families with US citizen children will be torn apart.”

Though the Department of Homeland Security announced on Jan. 8 that it had assessed improved conditions in El Salvador, the complaint says that the same agency found otherwise in another report report that same month.

“El Salvador is one of the ‘leading countries of nationality for persons granted either affirmative or defensive asylum’ based on credible and well-founded fear of persecution or torture,” this report says, as quoted in the complaint.

Temporary protected status for Salvadorans is scheduled to expire on Sept. 9, 2019. Haitian nationals will lose their status on July 22, 2019.

The plaintiffs argue that the situation in Haiti remains dire, particularly after Hurricane Matthew left an estimated 14,000 displaced.

The challengers seek declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief.

They are represented by Oren Sellstrom with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.

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