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Court Ruling Shines Spotlight on Temporary Protected Status for Some Immigrants

Protesters display placards and chant slogans, Aug. 14, 2019, while gathered outside federal court, in Boston. The demonstration was held to protest the Trump administration's campaign to end temporary protected status.
Protesters display placards and chant slogans, Aug. 14, 2019, while gathered outside federal court, in Boston. The demonstration was held to protest the Trump administration's campaign to end temporary protected status.

A federal appeals court has given the Trump administration a green light to end humanitarian protections the United States has provided to about 300,000 immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador.

Monday’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Appeals Court affects individuals from the four nations who received Temporary Protective Status (TPS), extending their ability to remain in the United States. Many have lived a significant portion of their lives in America and have U.S.-born children.

What is TPS immigration Status?

TPS is a form of humanitarian relief created by Congress and administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It covers people from nations where there is ongoing armed conflict, a natural disaster or other extraordinary conditions and allows them to live and work temporarily in the United States without the threat of deportation. It is intended to last until their nations of origin can safely take them back.

What happens to a TPS holder when a TPS designation ends?

If Monday’s ruling holds, TPS beneficiaries of the four nations who entered the United States illegally would revert to undocumented status and become subject to deportation. Those who entered legally would then return to their initial immigration condition prior to receiving TPS, unless that status has expired.

Despite Monday’s ruling, immigration officials say TPS will be extended for beneficiaries from all four nations plus Honduras and Nepal until early January 2021.

Can TPS holders apply for green card or lawful permanent residence?

No. TPS status does not provide beneficiaries with a path to lawful permanent residence (green card) or citizenship.

What are the countries with TPS designation?

There are 10: Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Nicaragua, Nepal, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and Yemen.

The Pew Research Center, per DHS data, estimates there are 450 people from Sudan with TPS status, 2,550 from Nicaragua, 46,000 from Haiti and 195,000 from El Salvador.

El Salvador received a TPS designation after a series of earthquakes killed thousands of people in 2001. In 2016, the former Obama administration noted, “Recovery from the earthquakes has been slow and encumbered by subsequent natural disasters and environmental challenges, including hurricanes and tropical storms, heavy rains and flooding, volcanic and seismic activity, an ongoing coffee rust epidemic, and a prolonged regional drought that is impacting food security.”

Haitians were able to apply for humanitarian protection after a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.

Immigrants from Nicaragua were able to apply for TPS protection after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998.

Sudanese nationals became eligible for relief due to the country’s protracted armed conflict.

Why does the administration maintain TPS is no longer needed?

The Trump administration had sought the end of nearly all TPS benefits, stressing that, by definition, they were designed to be temporary.

In a statement, a Department of Justice spokesperson said officials are “pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision” adding that for approximately two years “the district court’s injunction prevented the Department of Homeland Security from taking action that Congress has vested solely within the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security—action that is statutorily precluded from judicial review.”

Nevertheless, a series of lawsuits has challenged the administration’s action.

What are immigrant groups and TPS beneficiaries saying?

In statement to VOA, a group of TPS beneficiaries said they were in “shock” after the court’s decision but added that “right now, it is not time to panic.”

“Right now is the time to be smart, mobilize, and organize our communities towards a permanent residency for all TPS holders and all their families affected by these decisions,” William Martinez, TPS holder and organizer with the national TPS Alliance, said.

Haitian Wilna Destin, a TPS holder and a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit, compared the decision to major disasters.

“We have coronavirus, we have hurricanes...there’s so much going on. And we've been waiting for this [decision]...for me, it’s another disaster,” Destin said. “We are very disappointed, but we’re not going to stop. We still have to fight, fight until we get what we deserve for our family, for our children.”