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Honduran, Nepali immigrants sue to block Trump administration, keep temporary protected status

Supporters of temporary protected status for immigrants hold signs and banners with the outline of El Salvador at a rally at a federal courthouse in San Francisco last year. Immigrants from Honduras and Nepal have filed a lawsuit alleging the Trump administration unfairly ended a program that lets them live and work in the United States as they seek protections from dangers in their home countries. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Immigrant advocates filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to block the Trump administration from ending temporary protected status for people who have come to the United States to escape danger in Nepal and Honduras, using the same arguments that led a federal judge to delay the end of similar protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California, lawyers for roughly 100,000 Nepali and Honduran immigrants with temporary protected status argued that plans to end the protections were motivated by racial animus, citing a comment President Trump made last year that referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” Those who have the protection are allowed to live and work in the United States but must seek to renew their status every 18 months.

As with another lawsuit filed in the same court last March, the complaint contends that the Trump administration has moved to end the temporary protections in an effort to purge certain immigrant groups from the country, ignoring the dangerous conditions in their homelands that are forcing thousands to flee.

“The Trump administration came into power with a plan to end TPS,” said Ahilan T. Arulanantham, who is senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California, which is among several groups that filed the lawsuit. “They wanted to end TPS as part of their broader immigration agenda.”

Arulanantham cited administration emails that are included in the complaint that lawyers argue show a bias toward canceling the protections. One such email about Honduras and Nicaragua — which then-acting Department of Homeland Security chief Elaine C. Duke wrote in 2017 — said the decisions to end the benefits in those countries “will send a clear signal that TPS in general is coming to a close.”

A DHS spokesman declined to comment Monday.

The lawsuit came as the federal government was heading toward another possible shutdown this week, with the Trump administration still seeking billions of dollars from Congress for a physical barrier at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers reached a tentative agreement late Monday in negotiations over the nation’s border policy that would avoid another shutdown.

In hopes of forcing into the discussion a permanent solution for the approximately 400,000 TPS holders in the United States, immigrant advocates plan to rally all day Tuesday outside the White House and on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Embassy cables warned against expelling 300,000 immigrants. Trump officials did it anyway.

The lawsuit filed Monday aims to shield 15,000 Nepalis, whose protections are set to expire in June, and 85,000 Hondurans, whose protections are set to expire in January.

The two groups aren’t part of a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of TPS holders from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan because the Trump administration announced its plans to end protections for Hondurans and Nepalis after that action was underway, attorneys said. In the earlier case, a federal judge agreed in the fall to temporarily stop the Trump administration from ending the benefits.

Administration officials argue that the program created in 1990 was never meant to be continually extended and that decisions about such benefits should be more directly linked to the disasters or armed conflicts that led to their initial approval.

Andrew R. Arthur, a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the racial-animus argument, if successful, could create an impossible situation for the U.S. government as it evaluates whether to initiate or continue protected status for those who have fled specific countries: “The Department of Homeland Security would be unable to end any designation for any country outside of Europe.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they’re afraid to return to their homelands.

“I don’t want my children to go to Honduras,” said Donaldo Posadas Caceras, 44, a TPS holder in Baltimore, referring to ongoing violence that has spurred migrant caravans to travel toward the U.S. border through Mexico. “The situation there is dangerous.”