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Judge allows lawsuit against US alleging discrimination in Temporary Protected Status decision

A federal judge in Boston has ruled that a lawsuit alleging the government is discriminating against immigrants of color by ending their Temporary Protected Status can move forward, rejecting the government’s argument to dismiss the case.

US District Judge Denise J. Casper wrote in her 42-page ruling Monday that a combination of factors “allege plausibly that a discriminatory purpose was the motivating factor in a decision” to terminate Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Salvadorans, and Hondurans, including “statements of animus by people … involved in the decision-making process” and the “disparate impact on particular racial groups.”

More than 300,000 immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras have legally called the United States home — some for decades — under the humanitarian program, after natural disasters caused havoc in their homelands and made them unable to safely absorb returning citizens from the United States.


A country’s Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, designation lasts six to 18 months and is renewed at the discretion of the executive branch of government. The Trump administration says the conditions that triggered the need for the provisional immigration status for the countries in question have been resolved, so their citizens must leave the United States within the next year to 16 months or face deportation.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the law offices of Choate, Hall & Stewart sued the government in February on behalf of immigrants from the countries in question and two advocacy organizations, arguing that the decision to end TPS for these countries was unconstitutional and “impermissibly infected by invidious discrimination.”

They cited racist statements and discriminatory actions by President Trump and his administration, including Trump’s reported use of vulgar language to describe Haiti and African nations while saying immigrants from Norway would be preferable.

The civil rights group also “plausibly alleged” that there had been a significant shift in policy that narrows the scope for reexamining a country’s conditions, which the government was required to notify the public about and give reason for but failed to do, Casper wrote.


“There is no justification, explicit or otherwise, for Defendants’ switch to focusing on whether the conditions that caused the initial designation had abated rather than a fuller evaluation of whether the country would be able to safely accept returnees,” she said.

Oren Nimni from the Lawyer’s Committee said Casper’s ruling is a “vital step forward in the fight to protect TPS. It’s clear from the length and depth of the analysis that she clearly examined all of the important elements of the case, and we’re looking forward to moving ahead with the litigation.”

The Department of Justice, which represented the administration in court, declined to comment Tuesday about the judge’s ruling.

The government argued that the courts lack authority to intervene because the sole discretion for determining which countries are granted TPS rests with the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and is, therefore, not subject to judicial oversight.

And even if Trump has said racist things about immigrants of color, as the complaint states, there have been “no allegations whatsoever” that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, or former deputy secretary Elaine Duke, “has any discriminatory animus,” a Justice Department lawyer argued previously in court.

Casper rejected this argument, writing that the “courts have repeatedly held, however, that ‘liability for discrimination will lie when a biased individual manipulates a non-biased decision-maker into taking discriminatory action,’ ” that is, a biased supervisor does or says something that makes an employee act in kind even if “not directly motivated by animus.”


National immigrant advocacy groups celebrated Casper’s ruling, which also rejected the government’s argument that a recent Supreme Court decision in favor of Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries means that in immigration-related matters, the court must defer to the executive branch.

“The statutory provision at issue ... involve no national security judgments,” she wrote.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.