More than 300,000 immigrants living in the United States, many with families, careers and property, could face deportation as soon as next year following a decision announced Monday by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the federal court reversed a lower-court decision that blocked the Trump administration plan to phase out the Temporary Protected Status program for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.

The program known by its initials, TPS, protects certain immigrants who cannot return to their countries due to civil unrest, violence or natural disasters.  The program was conceived in 1990 as a short-term, humanitarian protection. But it allows beneficiaries to reapply for renewal, and many have been in the U.S. for decades.

The program’s detractors argue that the “temporary” nature of the protection has been abused and people need to return home. The Trump administration has sought to end TPS since 2017.

Immigrant-rights advocates say conditions in many of the four countries remain too dangerous for many to return, and that TPS holders still would face gang violence or other issues.

There are currently about 318,000 TPS-holders in the United States; 60 percent of them are Salvadoran nationals, according to Nicole Svajlenka, associate director of research for the Center for American Progress,a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Any move to oust them would also affect their children, including some 279,000 born in the U.S. to TPS-holders from El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, she said.

Deadlines set to end next year could end the work permits granted by the program, making those immigrants eligible for deportation.

The ruling also could have implications in another lawsuit involving TPS-holders from Honduras and Nepal.

Civil rights attorneys argued that the decision to terminate TPS was unconstitutional and driven by what they view as President Donald Trump’s racial animus. But the judges wrote that the plaintiffs failed to show that this was a motivating factor.

In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit judges said the lower court made a mistake in issuing an injunction because it did not have the authority to review the administration’s decision to end TPS.

“The court did not say the Trump Administration worked in compliance with law. Instead it found no court could review the question of their compliance because in the court’s view that decision is unreviewable,”  said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

Civil-rights attorneys plan to seek further review of Monday’s ruling and, if necessary, appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Salvadorans make up the largest number of TPS-holders, and many of them live in Los Angeles.

Orlando Zepeda and his wife, Lorena, are among the Los Angeles-area Salvadorans who have TPS protection and are in danger of losing it. Zepeda, now 54, left El Salvador when he was 17 and the country was embroiled in a civil war. Now one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – Ramos v. Wolf against Department of Homeland Security – Zepeda is battling to keep their protective status.  

“Not all battles are won, but the fight continues,” said Zepeda, who is active in a Los Angeles committee, which represents at least 35,000 Salvadorans with TPS in the area.

The Zepedas have two teenage children born in California. His son Benjamin, 17, also is a plaintiff.

As a maintenance worker in a facility that cares for Alzheimer’s patients, Zepeda is one of some 130,000 TPS-holders who serve as essential workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, according to data offered by the Center for American Progress.

Wilna Destin, a TPS-holder living in Florida, said during a Zoom press conference Monday that the ruling compounds the stress immigrants already are feeling due to Covid-19 and natural disasters in the U.S. She called the latest ruling “another disaster.”


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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