Judge Blocks Trump From Killing Protections for 300,000 Immigrants

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Citing racist comments from the president, a federal judge Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from canceling temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Sudanese who face dangers in their home countries.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen late Wednesday ruled that about 300,000 immigrants from those countries with temporary protected status will “suffer irreparable injury, with concomitant harm to state and local communities,” and he enjoined Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen from canceling their protected status while he reviews the case.

Chen found strong evidence that the administration pulled temporary protected status, or TPS, for citizens of those countries due to racism toward nonwhite immigrants, and did so without explaining its rationale. “The issues are at least serious enough to preserve the status quo,” Chen wrote in a 43-page order.

“The bottom line is there is nothing in the record establishing the continued presence of TPS beneficiaries in the United States causes harm to the country,” he wrote. “In contrast, if the court were to deny an injunction, plaintiffs stand to suffer substantial irreparable injury. Any ultimate adjudication on the merits in their favor may come too late if they have been removed prior to final adjudication. Once the TPS beneficiaries are removed, the government’s actions — if deemed unlawful in this lawsuit — could not practically be undone.”

Nine TPS holders and their U.S. citizen children sued the Trump administration in March over its November 2017 termination of temporary protected status for immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador, many of whom had lived in the United States for years.

Citing the administration’s sudden and unexplained change in the criteria for evaluating TPS designations, and Trump’s public statements about nonwhite immigrants — including that they come from “shithole countries,” and that Haitians “all have AIDS” — the plaintiffs claim the administration terminated their protected status due to racial discrimination.

The TPS statute requires that decision-makers consider current conditions in immigrants’ home countries when making TPS designations, so they will not be sent into harm’s way.

The plaintiffs claim the administration changed the rules to consider only the conditions in each country when TPS status was first granted, an allegation the administration disputes.

Under the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, the TPS designations of the countries at issue were repeatedly extended based on dangerous conditions.

Chen on Wednesday cited multiple harms TPS holders would face if returned to their home countries before the case is resolved, including poverty, family separation and derailed schooling.

Nicaragua is suffering from state violence under the increasingly dictatorial rule of President Daniel Ortega. Gangs and brutal police and military continue to ravage El Salvador. The U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for Sudan, parts of which suffer from civil war and terrorist violence.

Chen wrote that in addition to Trump’s multiple racist statements against immigrants, evidence the White House pressured former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke to end TPS designations also warrants an injunction.

The evidence included a draft memo in which Duke acknowledged that Trump’s “America-first view of the TPS decision” informed its conclusion that “(t)he TPS program must end for these countries soon.”

In a preliminary injunction hearing last week, Justice Department attorney Adam Kirschner ducked Chen’s repeated requests to describe the America-first policy.

The plaintiffs claim the policy is geared toward ending immigration to the United States for people of color.

Justice Department Spokesman Devin O’Malley denied in an emailed statement that the administration “did anything improper,” and said the agency “will continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security.”

“The court contends that the duly elected president of the United States cannot be involved in matters deciding the safety and security of our nation’s citizens or in the enforcement of our immigration laws,” O’Malley wrote. “The court’s decision usurps the role of the executive branch in our constitutional order.”

Emilou MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, representing the plaintiffs, had no immediate comment.

The first protected status terminations were set to occur Nov. 2, which would have put 1,000 Sudanese immigrants at immediate risk of deportation. More waves of terminations were scheduled to follow.

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