S.F. Immigrants Challenge Termination of Temporary Protected Status

The San Francisco court will make a decision that could affect the status of 55,000 Californians.

Officers arrest a protester outside of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services building during a rally by immigrant organizations to protest ICE raids Tuesday, January 26, 2016. (Ekevara Kitpowsong)

“I’ve stayed here [legally] for 34 years, but I don’t have legal residency,” Orlando Zapeda, a TPS holder from El Salvador said outside a District Court in San Francisco Friday. “We’re a part of the growth and the development of this great country, and because of that we deserve respect, and we deserve permanent residency.”

In March, nine plaintiffs filed a suit against the federal government over its decision to end temporary protected status for a number of countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Sudan. 

On Friday, the case hearing took place at the San Francisco U.S. District Court, where the government asked U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to dismiss the case. On Monday evening, he declined.

Temporary Protected Status is a legal status granted by the federal government to residents of countries in need of humanitarian relief, but is not a path towards citizenship. Usually, it is given after an environmental disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Once TPS ends, individuals become undocumented, at which point they can be deported.

In search of a loophole to stop tens of thousands of people with TPS status from being deported, plaintiffs allege that if the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS involves racial discrimination, it violates individuals’ rights to equal protection.

Emi MacLean, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said many TPS beneficiaries have contributed to their U.S. communities for decades. TPS holders pay taxes, receive valid documentation, and can work legally. They also do not qualify for federal aid.

“These are students at our universities, and they work at all of our industries and workplaces, they are volunteers in our communities, and they are our neighbors,” MacLean said at Friday’s rally.

Only a few days after the wake of a national backlash regarding immigrant family separation, the plaintiffs also argued that it destroys a child’s right to be united with family members if their parents have TPS. The plaintiffs suggest instead that TPS beneficiaries be allowed to extend their status until their child is old enough to live independently.

Crista Ramos, the 14-year-old lead plaintiff in the case, said that as a daughter of TPS recipients she wants to fight for other children facing a similar fear of family separation.

“I don’t want my mom to go back to El Salvador, a country that is not her home,” Ramos said. “My younger brother and I also depend on TPS to stay united as a family.”

The government primarily tried to defend the plaintiff’s allegation that the Department of Homeland Security changed its immigration policy regarding TPS substantially without an explanation, which it must do by law.

Chen refused to dismiss the case, citing the urgency of the matter — the Sudan TPS holders will lose their status on Nov. 2. He also acknowledged the high likelihood of an appeal from the loser after his decision.

“We’re not going to stay silent, not when everything that’s happening is a direct injustice,” Zapeda said.  

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