Safe Haven: TPS Recipients Fend Off Trump Attacks

Issue 244

Renee Feltz Mar 5, 2019

In a video by the Massachusetts-based rights group Centro Presente, 10-year-old Gabriella describes herself as a U.S. citizen who dreams of being “an ESL teacher for students who do not speak, read or understand English.” Then she quickly adds: “In order to accomplish my dream I need my mother and family.” 

Far from the border, even children like Gabriella who were born in the United States now fear separation from their parents because of the Trump administration’s push to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants who fled war, famine and natural disaster. Her mother is one of some 320,000 TPS recipients who now live and work legally in the United States, where they have built families over decades. About 15,000 live in New York City.

Congress created TPS in 1990 for people who fled El Salvador’s civil war. The list of eligible countries has since grown to include Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Honduras and Haiti. TPS recipients must pass a background check and pay a fee to apply to renew their status every six to 18 months. Now they also have to fight to keep TPS in place. So far they are winning.

When Trump told the Department of Homeland Security to end TPS in 2017, he immediately faced legal challenges from groups like Centro Presente, National TPS Alliance and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who argued the change was driven by a “racially discriminatory attitude toward all brown and black people.” Last October, Federal District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco seemed to agree when he cited “serious questions as to whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” and ordered TPS to remain in effect for El Salvador, Sudan, Haiti and Nicaragua as the case winds through court.

Closer to home, nine Haitian TPS holders filed another lawsuit to save TPS in the Eastern District of New York. They were joined by the Brooklyn-based newspaper, Haïti Liberté, and the Haitian rights group, the Family Action Network Movement, formerly known as Haitian Women of Miami. They too argued Trump’s move was driven by racial animus and pointed to his 2017 comment that 15,000 new Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS.”

Their case also cited emails from Trump appointees calling on officials to justify ending TPS for Haitians by downplaying health and safety concerns that had been raised by other federal officials. One responded by complaining: “The basic problem is that it IS bad there… We can … try to get more, and/or comb through the country conditions we have again looking for positive gems, but the conditions are what they are.” Other emails obtained by the UndocuBlack Network and National Immigration Law Center show that instead of focusing on conditions in Haiti, some officials sought information on how many Haitians with TPS received public benefits. A decision in the case could come in March.

As TPS holders and their loved ones suffer uncertainty about whether the program will be continued, many braved the cold in February to march on Washington with signs that read “Residency Now!” and visit with members of Congress to ask them to take the next step: fight for them to be granted permanent legal residency.

“From Nepal to Honduras, we made a promise that we were going to be a safe haven,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens told them at a rally in front of the White House. “We are here to make sure that all TPS recipients become permanent members of the United States of America.” 

Here in New York, organizers have launched new initiatives to protect immigrants vulnerable to deportation if their TPS is not renewed. The New Sanctuary Coalition’s Sanctuary “Hood” program is engaging leaders of all faiths to encourage their communities to be safe spaces and raise funds to bond out people taken into immigration custody. The Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University and the group NYU Sanctuary are hosting a conference called “Offering Refuge, Building Solidarity: Universities as Sanctuaries.” Others are calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep his campaign promise and fund healthcare for all residents of the state regardless of their immigration status.

Meanwhile, senior Trump administration officials have reportedly sought to extend TPS to protect Venezuelans in the United States from being deported.

Photo: Haitian Americans in St. Paul, Minn. protest threats to their immigration status. Credit: Fibonacci Blue.

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