The more than 16,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries that live in Houston are breathing easier for now after a federal judge ruled this week to maintain protections for people from Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan and Nicaragua.
TPS beneficiaries came to the United States after natural disasters and many have lived in the country for decades. The Trump administration is trying to end Temporary Protected Status for thousands of people.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen blocked on Wednesday the administration from ending the TPS protections arguing that it would cause “irreparable harm and great hardship.”
The judge said there is evidence that “President Trump harbors an animus against non-white, non-European aliens which influenced his … decision to end the TPS designation.”
The ruling cited Trump’s 2015 campaign speech in which he characterized Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, his call to bar Muslims from entering the United States and his vulgar reference to African countries during a meeting about immigration at the White House in January.
The ruling said the government failed to show the harm of continuing the 20-year-old program and that the plaintiffs established how uprooting those immigrants could hurt the local and national economy.
“Beneficiaries who have lived, worked, and raised families in the United States (many for more than a decade), will be subject to removal,” Chen wrote.
The lawsuit from immigrants who have received the protections alleges the administration’s decision was motivated by racism.
Federal government reaction
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the ruling “usurps the role of the executive branch.”
“The Justice Department completely rejects the notion that the White House or the Department of Homeland Security did anything improper. We will continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security,” O’Malley’s statement said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs praised the ruling and issued statements from some of those involved.
“I was so happy when I found out about the judge’s decision,” said Crista Ramos, 14, whose Salvadoran mother was in the program. “Ever since the TPS terminations were announced, I have been wondering how I can live a normal life if I am about to lose my mom.”
Chen questioned the administration’s motives at a hearing last month. He cited a memo that he said suggested the decision was driven by the administration’s America First policy.
He asked an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department to respond to plaintiffs’ allegations that America First meant excluding immigrants who are not white.
Adam Kirschner, a government attorney, said the memo showed then-Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke grappling with what to do about temporary protected status. Kirschner said input from the White House was expected on an issue like this, but the final decision was Duke’s.
Chen repeated Trump’s vulgar comment about African countries while responding that any influence the White House had on Duke could be relevant to the claims that the administration’s moves were discriminatory.
Chen ruled Wednesday that evidence shows Duke’s decision “may have been done in order to implement and justify a pre-ordained result desired by the White House.”
El Salvador was designated for the program in 2001 after an earthquake, and the country’s status was repeatedly renewed. The Trump administration announced in January that the program would expire for El Salvador in September 2019.
The administration concluded that El Salvador had received significant international aid to recover from the earthquake, and homes, schools and hospitals there had been rebuilt.
The Trump administration ended the program for the other three countries as well.
More than 200,000 immigrants could face deportation because of the change, and they have more than 200,000 American children who risk being uprooted from their communities and schools, according to plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
A full hearing on protections is supposed to take place later this month.