Haitian and Salvadoran refugees sued President Donald Trump, claiming his administration’s decision to end protections that allowed them to stay in the U.S. was "tainted by racial animus."
The lawsuit, filed in Boston federal court, seeks to block the administration from ending the Temporary Protected Status program that allowed thousands of people from countries experiencing a humanitarian or environmental crisis to live legally in the U.S.
While prior administrations have extended the protection for Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants, the Trump administration acted with "invidious discrimination" and racial bias, violating Constitutional rights to equal protection under the law, the plaintiffs said.
"President Trump has made no secret of his racist views," said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the lawsuit. "The administration’s decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador and Haiti manifests these discriminatory views."
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
TPS has been in place for Salvadorans since the country was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes in 2001. Haitians won the protection after a 2010 earthquake.
In January, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the administration was ending the program for Salvadoran immigrants, giving them until Sept. 9, 2019 to leave or be deported. The Trump administration months earlier terminated protection for Haitians with a July 22, 2019, deadline.
According to the group, there are 242,900 Salvadorans and 93,500 Haitians living in the U.S. under the program. The Salvadorans have 192,700 children who were born in the U.S., while the Haitians have 27,000 children who are U.S. citizens, according to the complaint.
Nielsen has used "flawed analysis" in concluding that both countries have now "stabilized," according to the lawsuit, which says the administration ignores how the people have established themselves in the U.S. “These individuals have homes, jobs and families.”
The plaintiffs include Juan Carlos Vidal, a Salvadoran from Revere, Massachusetts, who worked his way from a kitchen assistant to owning four restaurants in the Boston area after getting the protection in 2001.
The suit cites comments Trump made, including his assertion that African immigrants who have seen America would never "go back to their huts" and cited Trump saying policies should encourage immigration from countries like Norway. The complaint is the second to accuse the administration of racial bias after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued in January.
"The animus directed toward Latino and Black immigrants is a clear and unfortunate thread running through President Trump’s statements — and is actualized by his Administration’s policies, such as the ones challenged by this lawsuit," the group said.
A separate lawsuit filed Thursday in Brooklyn federal court challenges what the practice of depriving certain TPS holders from becoming lawful permanent residents.
The government is violating the Administrative Procedures Act, a statute which governs the way in which federal agencies propose and establish regulations, by refusing to recognize that TPS holders have been been deemed lawfully "inspected and admitted" into the country, according to the complaint.
In the New York suit, which seeks class-action or group status, the plaintiffs asked the judge to declare ending TPS is unlawful.
The Massachusetts case is Centro Presente v. Trump, 18-cv-10340, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
The New York case is Moreno v. Nielsen, 18-cv-1135, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.