A divided appellate court ruled that the Trump administration can go forward with plans to terminate a humanitarian program that protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the United States, clearing the way for their deportation.
The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled 2-1 on Monday in favor of the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate Temporary Protected Status designations for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador, opening up at least 300,000 immigrants and their families, many who have lived in the United States for decades, to be expelled from the country.
The TPS program permits immigrants into the country under “extraordinary and temporary conditions,” such as needing to flee their nations due to natural disasters, armed conflict and other serious social and economic factors.
The Trump administration has argued for those from the four countries to lose the TPS designations as they were granted the status long ago and that the crises that required humanitarian assistance have concluded.
Monday’s decision overturns a lower court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs — who are the beneficiaries of the TPS program — who argued that the Department of Homeland Security’s move to terminate the program was based on a novel interpretation of the TPS statues and that the action was motivated by racism against “non-white and non-European immigrants.”
The two Republican-appointed judges of the panel ruled Monday that the Department of Homeland Security’s move to end the program was unreviewable and that the plaintiffs failed to show racial discrimination was a motivating factor in the federal department’s actions.
“While the district court’s findings that President Trump expressed racial animus against ‘non-white, non-European’ immigrants, and that the White House influenced the TPS termination decision, were supported by record evidence, the district court cited no evidence linking the President’s animus to the TPS terminations,” the ruling said.
President Donald Trump has made disparaging comments against the countries in question and the court said its ruling does not condone those “offensive remarks” but that they were made by the president not in specific reference to the TPS program.
“Without evidence that the President’s statements played any role in the TPS decision-making process, the statements alone do not demonstrate that the President’s purported racial animus was a motivating factor for the TPS terminations,” the ruling said.
U.S. Circuit Judge Morgan Christen, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said the majority’s decision was “deeply flawed” while having “monumental” consequences for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
“The irreparable harm faced by plaintiffs … could hardly be more compelling,” she wrote in her dissent. “The court recognized that the government could not in good faith argue that it would suffer any concrete harm if TPS holders are allowed to remain in the United States pending resolution of this litigation because they have been lawfully present in the United States for many years.”
“The district court did not abuse its discretion when it granted preliminary injunctive relief to preserve the status quo,” she concluded.
The decision will not go into effect for at least several months, as the Trump administration has said it will maintain TPS status until March 5, 2021, for those from Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti and until Nov. 5, 2021, for those status holders from El Salvador.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform cheered the decision as “a victory for the American people and an unmistakable rebuke to activist judges.”
“This ruling represents a win for the idea that the American people should be able to provide needed and appropriate temporary humanitarian relief, with the full expectation that their generosity will not be taken advantage of when the emergency is over,” Dan Stein, the president of FAIR, said in a statement.
However, activists and advocacy groups said they will keep fighting.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California said it was “disappointed” by the decision but that there is still time before the program is dead.
“The president’s vile statements about TPS holders made perfectly clear that his administration acted out of racial animus,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said in a statement. “The Constitution does not permit policy to be driven by racism. We will seek further review of the court’s decision.”
The National TPS Alliance also vowed to continue to fight to keep the program going.
“We will continue to fight in the court system, in the streets, in the halls of Congress and in the court of opinion,” National TPS Alliance Organizer William Martinez said. “We will exhaust every legal recourse at our disposal to protect our community and our loved ones.”
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