Legal status of hundreds of thousands of migrants at risk after court talks collapse

Negotiations between the Biden administration and attorneys representing hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the United States under a temporary humanitarian program collapsed this week, paving the way for Trump-era decisions to revoke their legal status to take effect in the absence of court intervention.

After more than a year of federal court talks, the Biden administration and immigrant lawyers have failed to reach an agreement on ways to protect groups of immigrants that the Trump administration has decided not to allow to live and work in the United States under the temporary law. Protected State Program (TPS).

due to the breakdown of conversations, Approximately 337,000 Immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras may lose their ability to live in the US legally under TPS as early as next year, after a while until the government finishes the program. TPS allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to offer deportation protection and work permits to immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other “extraordinary” emergencies.

Lawyers representing Central American and Nepalese immigrants said both parties decided on Tuesday that the Biden administration would not agree to their proposals for a settlement in the years-long court case over the Trump administration’s efforts to end TPS programs.

Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney representing immigrants in the case, said the failure to compromise means the Biden administration will defend the Trump administration’s decisions to end TPS protections for tens of thousands of immigrants.

“The government’s position here and its behavior over the past 18 months is in sharp contrast to the president’s promise to protect this community,” said Arulanantham, who is also co-director of the UCLA Center on Immigration Law and Policy. “This community has lived in limbo and fear for the past 18 months waiting for the Biden administration to keep its promise and protect them.”

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During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden vow To prevent deportation of TPS holders to “unsafe” countries.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said the department could not comment on the pending lawsuit. “Existing TPS holders from El Salvador, Nepal, Nicaragua and Honduras will continue to be protected over the coming months,” the spokesperson added.

As of the end of 2021, 241,699 Salvadorans, 76,737 Hondurans, 14,556 Nepalese, and 4,250 Nicaraguans were enrolled in the TPS program, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.

United States - immigration - protest
Activists and citizens with temporary protected status march near the White House on September 23, 2022.

Oliver Doolery/AFP via Getty Images

The settlement negotiations that concluded this week stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2018 against the Trump administration’s decision to stop allowing hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador to live in the United States under the TPS.

A federal judge in California in October 2018 prevented The Trump administration has advocated termination of these countries’ TPS programs, saying officials did not adequately justify the decision and that the terminations raised “serious questions” about whether they were caused by hostility against non-white immigrants. As part of the case, the Trump administration agreed to halt its efforts to end TPS programs for Honduras and Nepal.

in September. 2020, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sit aside The lower court order, which says courts cannot denounce DHS decisions on temporary protection. The three-judge panel also said it found no direct link between President Donald Trump’s derogatory comments about non-white immigrants and the termination of TPS.

However, the Ninth Circuit ruling did not go into effect because attorneys representing the TPS holders asked the court to consider a review of the “en banc” case, or with the participation of all active judges. Soon after Biden took office in 2021, his administration entered settlement talks with the TPS holders’ attorneys, bringing the case to court.

Over the past year and a half, the Biden administration has announced extending TPS programs for Haitian and Sudanese immigrants living in the United States, but it has not announced similar steps for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras.

Arulanantham, the attorney representing the TPS owners, said that now that settlement negotiations are concluded, the Ninth Circuit will be able to decide whether to grant or deny the case’s request for reconsideration.

While the TPS programs for El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras are technically scheduled to expire on December 31, as outlined in government announcementDHS has agreed to provide a 120-day wind-down termination period for Hondurans, Nepalese, and Nicaraguans, as well as a 365-day reprieve for Salvadorans from the date the government is allowed to terminate policies.

That means the TPS programs for Honduras, Nepal and Nicaragua could end early next year if the Ninth Circuit rejects the request for a rehearing before November 30, according to Arulanantham. But if the application is approved, or not decided by November 30, Arulanantham said the TPS programs will be extended for another nine months as part of a condition in the court case.

Arulanantham said the Biden administration could have avoided this situation by expanding TPS programs to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras, just as it has done in Haiti and Sudan.

The Biden administration oversees a register A large number of TPS programs, using the authority to protect 16 groups from deportation, including immigrants from Venezuela, Myanmar, Haiti, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Cameroon and Ethiopia.

Arulanantham said the potential demise of the program would also affect hundreds of thousands of US-born children with TPS carriers, some of whom have lived in the US for more than two decades.

“I find it very frustrating that the Biden administration had a clear opportunity to end that suffering for all these American children and failed to do so,” he said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that TPS programs for El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras may expire as early as December 31. While it is technically scheduled to expire on that date, DHS has agreed to implement a 365-day period for the wind. Downtime for Salvadorans and 120 days for other nationalities.

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