Trump Administration’s TPS Decision Based On Racism, New Massachusetts Lawsuit Claims

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By Michael P. Norton

BOSTON — The Trump administration’s decision to end temporary protected status for immigrants from El Salvador and Haiti is “impermissibly infected by racial discrimination” and should be struck down, plaintiffs argue in a federal lawsuit filed in Boston on Thursday against the president and two homeland security officials.

The plaintiffs, immigrants with TPS status represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Centro Presente, are challenging the decision to terminate the protected status for Haitian immigrants on July 22, 2019 and for immigrants from El Salvador on Sept. 9, 2019, saying it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The temporary status is designed to protect foreign nationals living in the U.S. whose nations are experiencing a humanitarian or environmental crisis. The TPS designation for El Salvador was made in 2001 and for Haiti in 2010, due to natural disasters, and the Lawyers’ Committee says recoveries have stalled in those nations due to “stagnant economies, extreme gang and gender-based violence, a cholera epidemic and ill-functioning infrastructures.”

The 37-page complaint lays out the case that the administration’s decision was unconstitutional.

“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 plaintiffs wrote in their court filing. In another part of the complaint, the plaintiff attorneys conclude, “The Trump Administration’s decision to terminate TPS for Salvadorans and Haitians harkens back to some of the darkest and most discredited chapters in U.S. history.”

While the complaint says conditions in El Salvador and Haiti “have only worsened over time,” federal homeland security officials say the temporary protected status is no longer warranted based on current conditions in El Salvador and Haiti.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers’ Committee executive, cited President Trump’s comments equating Latino immigrants with rapists and referring to Haiti as a “shithole” country as evidence of his bias. “President Trump has made no secret of his racist views,” said Espinoza-Madrigal.

The plaintiffs include:

— Salvadoran immigrant Juan Carlos Vidal of Revere who has opened four restaurants and is the father of two U.S.-born children, ages 5 and 7;

— Chris Jean Baptise, 19, a Milton High School graduate from Haiti who is enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College;

— Mercedes Mata, a Salvadoran immigrant and Leominster homeowner who works as a clerk in a Fitchburg municipal office and has a 21-year-old enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College and a seven-year-old in first grade;

— Carolina Mata, a Salvadoran immigrant whose 19-year-old is a Fitchburg State University freshman and 11-year-old is in the fifth grade.

“As we have seen repeatedly in recent months, federal judges have shown a willingness to block actions by the Trump Administration that run afoul of constitutional protections,” Lawyers’ Committee attorney Oren Nimni said in a statement.

There are 242,900 El Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. with temporary protected status, according to the plaintiffs, and they have an estimated 192,700 U.S. citizen children. There are 93,500 immigrants from Haiti in the U.S. with TPS, with an estimated 27,000 U.S. citizen children.

On Nov. 20, 2017, former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke determined disaster-related conditions in Haiti “no longer supported its designation for TPS” and announced the termination of the status after reviewing country conditions and consulting with U.S. government agencies. She delayed the effective date of the termination for 18 months, from Jan. 22, 2018, “to allow time for an orderly transition.”

On Jan. 8, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the planned end of temporary protected status for immigrants from El Salvador, saying the conditions associated with a 2001 earthquake no longer exist and noting millions of dollars in international and emergency aid to help with recovery.

“Many reconstruction projects have now been completed,” the homeland security department said. “Schools and hospitals damaged by the earthquakes have been reconstructed and repaired, homes have been rebuilt, and money has been provided for water and sanitation and to repair earthquake damaged roads and other infrastructure. The substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist.”

Homeland security delayed for 18 months the end of TPS for Salvadorans “to provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible” and to allow El Salvador to prepare for the return of Salvadorans.

The 18-month delay, according to the Trump administration, would also give Congress time to “craft a potential legislative solution.”

On Feb. 6, during a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss the MS-13 gang, President Trump questioned the length of protected status.

“Temporary protected status — temporary — why is it that 16 years later someone would be in our country under something called, ‘temporary protected status’? It proves that something is wrong with our immigration system,” the president said, according to a transcript.

Congress for many years has been unable to agree on solutions to immigration system challenges.