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US Federal Court Agrees to Rehear TPS Case

FILE - People protest for an extension and expansion of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at Lafayette Park by the White House in Washington.
FILE - People protest for an extension and expansion of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at Lafayette Park by the White House in Washington.

A federal appeals court has agreed to rehear a case that could determine the fate of more than 300,000 immigrants living in the U.S. legally on humanitarian grounds.

Immigrant advocates are calling last week’s decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals a victory, at least for now. The court vacated a 2020 ruling issued by a three-judge panel of the California-based appeals court.

The California panel’s ruling would have allowed the government to end Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.

TPS allows migrants whose home countries are considered unsafe to live and work in the U.S. for a period of time if they meet certain requirements established by the U.S. government.

Ahilan Arulanantham, the immigration attorney representing TPS holders, told VOA his clients were happy the courts agreed to rehear the case.

Arulanantham said the case is part of a long fight over the TPS policy that began in 2018 when a district judge blocked the former Trump administration from ending the program for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.

At the time, the federal judge said the terminations were not properly justified.

In 2020, the three-judge panel of 9th Circuit judges said the courts are not allowed to second-guess the government's TPS decisions. Attorneys representing TPS holders asked for the case to be reheard, and the 2020 ruling never took effect.

“Then the election happened and the Biden administration won. And of course, President [Joe] Biden had promised to protect the TPS holder community on the campaign trail and on his website … And so we entered into settlement negotiations, and those negotiations actually lasted, like, 18 months,” Arulanantham said.

But the negotiations collapsed in October 2022.

“Now 11 judges are going to decide,” Arulanantham said. No date has been set for the court to hear arguments.

The decision to rehear the case has no immediate impact on TPS beneficiaries of the affected countries.

But Arulanantham said if the program were to end, TPS holders would quickly lose employment authorization.

“And that could happen in a matter of months after the terminations go into effect,” he said.

According to the latest figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were 241,699 Salvadorans, 76,737 Hondurans, 14,556 Nepalis, and 4,250 Nicaraguans enrolled in the TPS program.

In a statement to the media, the plaintiff in the case, Cristina Morales, who is a TPS holder of more than 20 years and a leader in the National TPS Alliance, said, “For five years, my family has faced a roller coaster of emotions — from fear of terminations to elation from these court victories.”

Morales urged the Biden administration to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement.

In November 2022, the Biden administration allowed TPS holders affected by the case to maintain their work permits and deportation protection for an extra year after the date set to end the program, or until June 30, 2024, whichever date comes later.

The Biden administration also created more TPS designations including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ukraine and Venezuela, allowing hundreds of thousands of immigrants to have temporary legal status.

And the government announced TPS extensions for Haitian and Sudanese immigrants living in the U.S. But it has yet to announce extensions for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Honduras.

Haitians living in the U.S. have TPS protections until Aug. 3, 2024, while the Sudan designation extends through Oct. 19, 2023.

The TPS program does not lead to permanent U.S. residency.