Legal status of hundreds of thousands of immigrants at risk after court talks fail

Negotiations between the Biden administration and lawyers representing hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the US under a temporary humanitarian program failed this week, paving the way for Trump-era decisions to revoke their legal status without court intervention.

After more than a year of talks with federal court, the Biden administration and immigrants’ lawyers failed to reach an agreement on ways to protect groups of immigrants whom the Trump administration says are no longer in the U.S. were allowed to live and work under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.

As a result of the failure of the talks, about 337,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras could lose their ability to legally live in the US under TPS as early as December 31. The program enables the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide deportation protection and work permits to immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disaster or other “extraordinary” emergencies.

Lawyers representing Central American and Nepalese immigrants said the two sides decided on Tuesday that the Biden administration would not agree to their proposals for a settlement in the years-long lawsuit over the Trump administration’s efforts to disrupt the TPS programs. to end.

Ahilan Arulanantham, a lawyer representing immigrants in the case, said the failure to reach a compromise means the Biden administration will defend the Trump administration’s decisions to end TPS protections for tens of thousands of immigrants.

“The government’s stance on this and its conduct over the past 18 months is deeply inconsistent with the president’s pledge to protect this community,” said Arulanantham, who is also the co-director of the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy. “This community has lived in limbo and for the past 18 months has been afraid to wait for the Biden administration to deliver on its promise and protect them.”

During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden vowed to prevent the deportation of TPS holders to “unsafe” countries.

A DHS spokesperson said the department was unable to comment on pending lawsuits. “Current TPS holders from El Salvador, Nepal, Nicaragua and Honduras will be further protected in the coming months,” the spokesperson added.

According to data from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), at the end of 2021, 241,699 Salvadorans, 76,737 Hondurans, 14,556 Nepalese and 4,250 Nicaraguans were enrolled in the TPS program.

US IMMIGRATION PROTEST
Activists and civilians with temporary protected status march near the White House on September 23, 2022.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images


The settlement negotiations that ended this week stemmed from a 2018 lawsuit filed against the Trump administration’s decision to stop allowing hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador to enter the U.S. live under the authority of the TPS.

A California federal judge in October 2018 banned the Trump administration from terminating TPS programs for these countries, saying officials did not sufficiently justify the decision and that the terminations raised “serious questions” as to whether they stemmed from hostility to non-white immigrants. . As part of the case, the Trump administration agreed to suspend its efforts to end TPS programs for Honduras and Nepal.

Sept. In 2020, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned the lower court’s order because courts were unable to guess DHS’s TPS decisions. The panel of three judges also said it could not find a direct link between President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about non-white immigrants and the termination of the TPS.

However, the 9th Circuit ruling did not go into effect because lawyers representing the TPS holders asked the court to consider repeating the case “en banc,” or with all active judges participating in it. Shortly after Mr. Biden took office in 2021, his administration began settlement talks with the attorneys for TPS holders, interrupting the lawsuit.

In the past year and a half, the Biden administration has announced expansions of TPS programs for Haitian and Sudanese immigrants living in the US, but has not announced similar moves for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras.

Now that settlement negotiations have ended, the 9th Circuit will be able to decide whether to grant or deny the request to rehearse the case, said Arulanantham, the attorney representing TPS holders.

If the court rejects the request before Nov. 30, Arulanantham said the TPS programs for El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras will end on Dec. 31, as set out in a DHS announcement. But if the request is granted, or not decided by Nov. 30, Arulanantham said the TPS programs will be extended for another nine months as part of a stipulation in the lawsuit.

But Arulanantham said the Biden administration could have avoided this situation by expanding TPS programs for El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras, as well as for Haiti and Sudan.

The Biden administration oversees a record number of TPS programs and uses the authority to protect 16 groups from deportation, including immigrants from Venezuela, Myanmar, Haiti, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Cameroon and Ethiopia.

Arulanantham said the program’s potential demise would also affect several hundred thousand US-born children of TPS holders, some of whom have lived in the US for more than two decades.

“I find it so disappointing that the Biden administration has had a clear opportunity to end that suffering for all these American children and has failed to do so,” he said.

Editor’s Note: The number of immigrants from the affected countries covered by TPS has been updated to reflect the numbers USCIS reported to Congress.

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