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Children of immigrants challenge Trump policy on behalf of their parents

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Near the end of 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began announcing plans to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for migrants from select non-European countries, but the proposed policy change is being challenged in federal court by the children of TPS recipients.

The TPS program was enacted by congress in 1990, with the purpose of offering humanitarian relief to foreign nationals fleeing natural disaster or political unrest, by resettling them for an unspecified period of time within the United States.

The lawsuit Ramos v. Nielsen, filed on Dec. 17, 2018 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that TPS recipients from Sudan, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti are being targeted as a result of the President’s racial animus toward non-white, non-European immigrants. The lawsuit cites numerous emails between White House officials and then DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, discussing the end of TPS as being “consistent with the President’s position on immigration.”

Lead plaintiff Crista Ramos is the 14-year-old daughter of TPS recipient Cristina Morales, who came to the United States from El Salvador in 1993 when she was 12. Morales was granted TPS in 2001 and has since made a life for herself, starting a family, purchasing a home and working as a behavioral aide with with children who have autism. But during the Trump era, she has watched as programs like TPS have come under increasing scrutiny.

In late 2017, DHS announced the termination of TPS for Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti. In a press release, the office of the DHS secretary explained that the humanitarian conditions that gave way for TPS after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti “no longer exist.” DHS followed up that decision a few months later in 2018, announcing that it was also terminating TPS for recipients from El Salvador. Once again, DHS determined that the conditions on the ground in these countries had “significantly improved.”

At a recent TPS informational forum, Francisco Gonzalez, an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities SF, stated: “The assertion that (TPS designated) countries have recuperated is completely false. It is unjustifiable.”

TPS beneficiaries, along with legal and interfaith organizations that support them, adamantly contest the explanations given by DHS for terminating TPS for these counties. They also say that it is unrealistic to expect beneficiaries to leave their deeply rooted  lives in the United States.

Julie Mitchell, managing attorney of CARECEN-LA, the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the country, explained that “there are over 300,000 TPS holders nationwide, with the majority having resided in the U.S for over two decades.” Mitchell also pointed to a study conducted of TPS demographics which found that “there are 273,000 U.S. citizen children born in the U.S. to TPS holders, and a large chunk of these TPS holders have mortgages in the U.S., and really have rooted lives in the U.S.”

Efforts to defend TPS and find legislative support for a pathway to residency and eventual citizenship, have led to the formation of a National TPS Alliance. Composed of beneficiaries, activists and interfaith and legal organizations, the National TPS Alliance has local committees across the nation of advocate locally as well as at the national level in Washington DC.

In February 2019, Ramos and the other plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction, and the DHS has complied by automatically extending TPS status for beneficiaries from the four countries listed in the lawsuit.

For Morales, the current lawsuit gives her family a “sense of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.” But she also maintains that it is “a band-aid on top of a great wound.”

“They are only helping us buy time,” she said.

Morales fears what could happen if the lawsuit in unsuccessful and she wants to see legislative action on the issue.

“This problem is not only because of Trump. There hasn’t been commitment from previous administrations—both Democrat and Republican—for pathway to something more permanent,” she said. “Every 18 months we have had to renew our status for years”

When asked what people should know about TPS beneficiaries like her, Morales responded that “Tepeseanos [as she refers to beneficiaries in Spanish] are not your enemies, we are people who have given a lot to this country.”

Story by: Melissa Perez Winder