Appeals court backs Trump on immigrant program
Many in Massachusetts will be affected by decision
A FEDERAL APPEALS COURT has ruled the Trump administration can end humanitarian protections that have allowed more than 300,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan to remain in the United States, including thousands in Massachusetts.
A divided 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday lifted a preliminary injunction that blocked the government from ending Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for people from those four countries. The order also applies to Nepalese and Honduran recipients, who have sued separately but are subject to the ruling under an agreement between attorneys and the court.
The court, in 2-1 decision, sided with the Trump administration that a program intended to be temporary had become permanent over the years and was no longer justified because conditions in many of the immigrants’ home countries had improved.
The appeals court also rejected arguments that the move to end TPS for the four countries was driven by President Trump’s alleged racial and anti-immigrant bias demonstrated through a series of inflammatory public comments. Those included the statement in January 2018 in which he referred to several countries TPS recipients are from as “shithole countries.”
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), said the decision was disappointing. “Given that these countries aren’t in a better position to take people back, especially in the pandemic, it puts families in a difficult position,” she said.
The case, on an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, reverses an October 2019 lower court decision that held that the immigrants would have been irreparably harmed if their legal status was revoked and they were deported.
One of the plaintiffs, Hiwaida Elarabi, originally from Sudan, has lived in Massachusetts since November 1997, when she arrived on a visitor’s visa to visit family. The security situation deteriorated in her home country and, before the expiration of her visitor’s visa, the US government designated Sudan for TPS. She remained in Massachusetts because she could not safely return due to ongoing human rights abuses, famine, and civil war.
Now 55, she has a master’s degree from Brandeis University and has worked in higher education and for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
In Massachusetts, there are over 12,300 TPS holders, according to MIRA. Of those, 5,600 are working in positions as frontline workers during the pandemic, according to a Center for American Progress study. In Massachusetts, many of those are Haitian nursing home workers.
“In the midst of a pandemic, these immigrants continue to be frontline workers. Why disrupt their lives and the businesses they’re a part of?” asked Millona.
Attorneys intend to appeal, and many TPS holders can retain their status (which allows them to legally live, work, and drive in the US) until at least March 5, 2021. After that, they’re subject to deportation unless another court intervenes.
Two of her primary concerns are getting to work and the children to school. “This decision opens the door for me to lose my job and my license,” Landaverde said.
She’s concerned about the impact the end of TPS could have on her 14-year-old daughter, Virginia, who has been following the case. “I don’t want to make her leave school and her friends to move to El Salvador, and it would be a horrible thing to be separated.”
“This is the place I see as my home,” she added.
Often, TPS recipients have spent more than half their lives in the US and have American–born children. The TPS program was created by Congress in 1990 and allows for citizens of foreign countries impacted by natural disasters and civil conflict to find legal refuge in the US. It is different than the refugee and asylum programs, and was originally intended to be temporary, unlike those programs.
For more than 20 years, administrations from both parties have renewed the TPS status of hundreds of thousands of people. That stopped in November 2017, when the Trump administration said it was going to end the program. Since then, several lawsuits have blocked the administration from doing so and legislation that would offer a pathway to citizenship for TPS recipients has stalled in the Senate.José Urias, a TPS recipient and coordinator for the Massachusetts TPS committee, said he’s hoping for a “permanent solution” and permanent residency. He moved to the US at 16 in 2001, and has run his own business for much of the time since then, often working as much as 80 hours a week.
“We’ve led a pretty normal life with TPS,” he said of his family, which includes two daughters.