Trump’s Immigration Comments Again at Play in Federal Lawsuit

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By Laura D. Francis

President Donald Trump ‘s comments about immigrants again are providing fodder for race discrimination claims in a lawsuit over the administration’s decision to end temporary protected status for nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

A group of TPS holders Aug. 6 was allowed to go forward with the argument that race bias infected the decision to end TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

The decision from Judge Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California follows a July 23 ruling from a federal judge in Massachusetts that also found it plausible, based on the president’s comments, that ending TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras was motivated by racism.

The cases are among a host of lawsuits filed after the Trump administration started ending TPS for nationals of various countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. TPS allows foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. following an armed conflict or natural disaster in their home countries.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also filed a lawsuit accusing the administration of racism in ending TPS for Haiti.

Many TPS holders, including those from El Salvador and Honduras, have been in the U.S. for decades and have children who are U.S. citizens. Because of limited visa options, ending TPS means they’ll either have to leave the country voluntarily or face deportation.

Department of Homeland Security representatives weren’t immediately available for comment Aug. 7.

Different From Travel Ban

Allegations of racism arose when Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” when discussing a legislative proposal to provide visas to former TPS holders. In the same discussion, he also asked why the U.S. needs more Haitians.

TPS for El Salvador and Haiti was ended seven days later, Chen said.

“These are not merely comments about a place, but can reasonably be understood as comments about the people who come from those places and their intrinsic worth,” the judge wrote. “It is reasonable to infer racial or national-origin/ethnic animus from these statements, as confirmed by the reaction of listeners who were present.”

Both the California and Massachusetts TPS cases diverge from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding Trump’s third travel ban. In that case, the justices dismissed the argument that the president’s comments about Muslims was evidence that the ban was motivated by religious bias.

The travel ban situation is different, Chen said. The decisions to end TPS didn’t involve national security or foreign policy, and TPS holders have more rights by virtue of the fact that they already live in the U.S., he said.

The law also gives the president more authority to issue the travel ban than it gives the DHS to end TPS, he said.

Chen also allowed further litigation over the TPS holders’ other arguments, including that the rights of the U.S.-citizen children of TPS holders are being violated.

The case is Ramos v. Nielsen, 2018 BL 279960, N.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-01554, 8/6/18.

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