Lawsuit Hits Back Against Trump’s Elimination of Immigration Protections: ‘This Is Ethnic Cleansing’

"President Trump is a bully. He thinks he can do whatever he wants, and they give him the power to do that. Every immigrant, all immigrants, we are all targets."

[Photo: Activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol to defend Temporary Protective Status (TPS).]
The lawsuit alleges the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), deviating from decades of practice and procedure regarding TPS by various administrations, both Republican and Democratic. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A federal lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court challenging the Trump administration’s unlawful termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an estimated 200,000 people from four countries.

Immigrant advocates are suing the Trump administration on behalf of TPS recipients from Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, and Nicaragua. Prior to the Trump administration terminating TPS for these countries, Haiti had been designated for TPS for eight years, El Salvador for 17 years, Sudan for 21 years, and Nicaragua for 19 years.

The U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. An estimated 270,000 U.S. citizen children have at least one parent with TPS.

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration’s termination of TPS violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because the decisions to terminate the humanitarian program were motivated by race and national origin-based discrimination against individuals from what President Trump has referred to as “shithole countries.”

“The Trump Administration has explicitly directed racist ire toward TPS holders,” according to the lawsuit’s preliminary statement. “Termination of TPS was part of an immigration agenda focused on ejecting non-white, non-European, and non-English-speaking people from the United States,”

The lawsuit alleges the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), deviating from decades of practice and procedure regarding TPS by various administrations, both Republican and Democratic. Considered one of the most important administrative laws, the APA provides constitutional safeguards by regulating federal agencies and their roles.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Alianza Nacional TPS, African Communities Together, CARECEN-Los Angeles, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), National Day Laborer Organizing Network, San Francisco TPS Committee, and UNITE HERE filed the lawsuit.

Under previous administrations, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) factored in any natural disasters and social or economic crises that occurred after a country was originally designated for TPS when deciding whether to extend the country’s designation. President Obama renewed protections for Haiti several times, long after the earthquake that devastated the country, killing more than 100,000 people and leading to a cholera outbreak that is still ravaging the country.

“But at some point after President Trump took office, DHS—without any formal announcement—adopted a new, novel interpretation of the TPS statute that eschews consideration of any intervening country conditions. This sub-silentio departure from existing practice was unlawful,” according to the lawsuit’s preliminary statement.

Of primary importance in the lawsuit filed today is the allegation that the Trump administration’s termination of TPS violates the due process rights of the U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients by forcing them to decide between leaving their home country or leaving their parents.

“It is well established that United States citizens have an absolute right to reside in this country,” according to the lawsuit’s preliminary statement. “It is equally well established that families have a fundamental right to live together without unwarranted government interference. Citizen children of TPS holders cannot constitutionally be forced to forego one of these rights for the other.”

Wilna Destin, a TPS recipient from Haiti who has been in the United States for almost 20 years, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Destin has two U.S. citizen children, ages 10 and 14, and it is for them that she is fighting back. The housekeeper has been a union organizer with UNITE HERE since 2014, when she and other Disney workers in Orlando successfully negotiated a pay increase. Destin’s 14-year-old daughter is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Trump.

“I decided to be plaintfiff because I am a mother. I have two U.S. citizen children who were born and raised here. Forcing them to choose between staying here or going to Haitia country they have never knownis not fair or just,” Destin told Rewire.News.

When the Trump administration terminated TPS for Haiti, Destin said she had hard conversations with her children about what they would do if she was deported. Destin said that it is clear her children have been distracted from their education, worrying about what will happen to their mother.

“Kids should be thinking about going to school, but my kids are thinking about what will happen if they’re forced to leave their country,” Destin said. “When we talk about these things, I see in their eyes they are afraid. They are not ready for all of this.”

While Destin said she was surprised by the Trump administration’s targeting of TPS, she knew it was a matter of time before he expanded his net beyond undocumented immigrant communities.

“President Trump is a bully. He thinks he can do whatever he wants, and they give him the power to do that. Every immigrant, all immigrants, we are all targets,” Destin said.

Mazin, who did not want to use his last name, is a 19-year-old college student who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. While much of the focus surrounding TPS recipients has been on parents, it’s important to note that many are young people who have been able to attend college thanks in part to TPS.

When Mazin, a TPS recipient from Sudan, spoke to Rewire.News, he was on his way to the courthouse to file the lawsuit against the Trump administration. Mazin has had TPS for five years and said that his decision to be a plaintiff came from the understanding that it is a “noble cause.”

“Many with TPS have been in this country for many years, working and contributing,” Mazin said. “We are not doing this [lawsuit] for ourselves individually, we are doing this for everyone in the United States with TPS.”

Neidi Dominguez is an organizer with IUPAT who coordinated the filing of the lawsuit. Her union represents more than 150,000 people, 90 percent of whom are Latino immigrants. As the Trump administration began its attacks against TPS, with the likely goal of ending the humanitarian program entirely, IUPAT’s TPS recipients began to emerge and share their concerns with union leaders. Dominguez said this is how IUPAT “came to the fight” against the Trump administration. She estimates several hundred union members are TPS recipients who have been “directly impacted by the Trump administration’s racism.”

“So many of our members expressed that they knew it would be their time to be targeted soon enough because of the anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric and polices that immediately emerged from Trump,” Dominguez said. “These are brown and Black immigrant communities being targeted [by terminating TPS] and if anything good has come from this it’s Black and brown immigrants seeing their struggles as related and understanding this isn’t just immigration policy they’re fighting; it’s white supremacy. This is ethnic cleansing they are fighting, and they are leading this fight with dignity and respect.”

Dominguez said her hope for the lawsuit is that the judge understands the urgency of what is happening and overturns Trump’s terminations, allowing immigrant communities to continue benefiting from TPS. This is especially important for Sudanese immigrants, whose TPS designations terminate November 2, giving them eight months to uproot lives in the United States.

Destin told Rewire.News that she is ready to fight the Trump administration in court.

“I want to make the court and the American people understand we are human beings. We are mothers. We are fighters. Like Americans, we want our kids to succeedand our kids are Americans,” Destin said. “They want to say we are criminals, but there are good and bad people in the United States, just like there are in Haiti, El Salvador, and everywhere else. I want to go to court, stand in front of the judge and look him in the face and say, ‘I am an important person in my community and you cannot do this to us.'”