Immigrants from four countries and their American-born children sued the Trump administration Monday over its decision to end a program that lets them live and work legally in the United States.
Nine immigrants and five children filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco alleging the decision to end Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan was racially motivated.
The status is granted to countries ravaged by natural disasters or war. It lets citizens of those countries remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home.
More than 200,000 immigrants could face deportation due to the change in policy, and they have more than 200,000 American children who risk being uprooted from their communities and schools, according to plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other immigrant advocates.
Salvadoran plaintiff Orlando Zepeda has lived in California for more than three decades and is raising his 12- and 14-year-old children in Los Angeles. He said the change would be daunting.
Zepeda has worked in building maintenance for the past eight years and fears he wouldn't recognize the country he left during the middle of a civil war when he was just a teenager.
"My home and family are here," he said in a statement.
A message for the Department of Justice seeking comment was not immediately returned.
It's the latest lawsuit filed against the Trump administration over its crackdown on immigration. A case filed last month by Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants in Massachusetts also alleges the decision to end temporary protected status was racially motivated.
Both suits came after Trump used vulgar language to describe the arrival of immigrants from Haiti and African countries.
The lawsuit in California alleges that the U.S. narrowed its criteria for determining whether countries qualified for temporary protected status. Since taking office, the Trump administration has ended the program for the four countries.
Choice: Country or family
The program was created for humanitarian reasons and the status can be renewed by the U.S. government following an evaluation.
El Salvador was designated for the program in 2001 after an earthquake and the country's status was repeatedly renewed. The Trump administration announced in January that the program would expire for El Salvador in September 2019.
At that time, the American children of those immigrants could face the choice of leaving their country with their parents or staying without them, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status for the children.
"These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family," Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.