On Monday, September 14, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled by a 2-1 margin in favor of the Trump Administration to strip legal immigration status from some 400,000 people, rendering them deportable if they do not voluntarily leave the country.
The ruling deals specifically with Temporary Protected Status or TPS. The status is granted by the Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security to eligible foreign-born individuals, who are unable to return home safely due to conditions or circumstances preventing them from returning to their country.
In 2019 the House Judiciary Committee took up the subject of TPS. The program has been extended periodically by Republican and Democratic administrations, and those who had temporary protected status typically renewed it every 18 months. Last year, the Trump Administration moved to end protected status for immigrants from six countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan — arguing that it was never meant to provide a permanent haven. In the case of El Salvador, the Department of Homeland Security concluded in January 2018 that the conditions that prevailed starting in 2001 “no longer exist.” In March 2019, a Washington Post article described one family being forced to leave the U.S. despite growing up here with roots in this country that can be traced to the U.S. Civil War America.
The plaintiffs argued that maintaining the program was in the national interest because more than 100,000 holders of temporary protected status work in industries deemed “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic. The Center on American Progress estimates that more than 11,000 health care workers and more than 76,000 food-related workers would be forced to leave the country.
According to a report in the New York Times, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said that revoking the program would adversely affect several key industries where recipients make up a significant amount of the workforce.
The court ruled that the Trump Administration acted within its authority in terminating legal protections. The decision does not immediately end the protections because the Trump Administration has agreed to maintain them until at least March 5, 2021, for people from five of the affected countries and until November 2021 for people from El Salvador. The court’s ruling could force many people who have been in the country for years, if not decades, to contemplate leaving their jobs, homes, and communities to return to impoverished countries that are ill-prepared to absorb them. It also could result in the separation of families because beneficiaries have about 200,000 U.S.-born children.
Ten countries are currently part of the temporary protected status program, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Only four were officially included in Monday’s decision — El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan — but nationals from two other countries, Honduras and Nepal, sued separately. A legal agreement calls for those countries to be covered by Monday’s decision.