Leominster residents join lawsuit vs. Trump administration

Publisher: 
Leominster Champion
Author: 
David Dore
Publication Date: 
March 1, 2018

Two Leominster residents who emigrated from El Salvador in 2001 through a special federal program have joined a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s decision to send them back.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, in partnership with Centro Presente, filed the suit in federal court Thursday, Feb. 22. The suit claims the decisions announced to end Temporary Protected Status next year for immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador was “impermissibly infected by invidious discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and/or national origin and therefore cannot stand.”

The eight individual plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include Mercedes Mata, who bought a home in Leominster about six months ago, and Carolina Mata, who also lives in Leominster. Both came to the United States in 2001 under the TPS program.

Named as defendants were President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (and former Acting Secretary) Elaine Costanzo Duke.

“President Trump has made no secret of his racist views,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, stated in a Feb. 22 press release announcing the lawsuit. He cited comments by the president that included referring to Haiti and some African countries as “s—holes” during a White House meeting in January.

“The Administration’s decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador and Haiti manifests these discriminatory views,” Espinoza-Madrigal stated. “The Constitution does not allow governmental decision-making that is infected by this type of racial bias.”

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the TPS program allows immigrants from certain countries affected by “ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war), an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic, [or] other extraordinary and temporary conditions” to temporarily live and work legally in the United States.

The TPS designation was applied to El Salvador in 2001 and Haiti in 2010, both following earthquakes.

“As both Republican and Democratic Administrations have consistently found since then, stagnant economies, extreme gang and gender-based violence, a cholera epidemic and ill-functioning infrastructures have stalled recovery,” the Lawyers’ Committee press release stated. “Therefore, these countries do not have the capacity to receive a massive influx of returning immigrants. TPS is intended to provide safe haven in the United States for foreign nationals whose nation is experiencing a humanitarian or environmental crisis.”

Trump administration officials announced the termination of Temporary Protected Status for Haiti and El Salvador as of July 22, 2019 and Sept. 9, 2019, respectively. In addition, the designation for Sudan will end in November and for Nicaragua in January 2019.

If people affected by the ending of the TPS designation do not leave by the deadline, the Miami Herald reported in November, their immigration status would revert to what it was before the TPS designation — and, if they are here illegally, they could be arrested and deported.

According to the Lawyers’ Committee, there are 242,900 immigrants from El Salvador and 93,500 immigrants from Haiti with the TPS designation who have jobs and own homes. Between the two groups, they have an estimated 219,700 children who are American citizens.

The lawsuit states that Mercedes Mata has two children born in Massachusetts, a 21-year-old who goes to Mount Wachusett Community College and a 7-year-old first-grader. She is the principal clerk in Fitchburg’s Building and Zoning Department, according to the city’s website.

Carolina Mata also has two children born in Massachusetts, a 19-year-old freshman at Fitchburg State University and an 11-year-old fifth-grader.

Both Mercedes and Carolina Mata are members of Centro Presente, a group established in 1981 that represents Latin American immigrants in Massachusetts.

“Many of the plaintiffs have lived in the United States for decades,” Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, said in last week’s press release. “If TPS is terminated, they are at risk of losing everything — the homes and the businesses they have built, the families they have raised and the money they have invested into their communities.”

“As we have seen repeatedly in recent months, federal judges have shown a willingness to block actions by the Trump Administration that run afoul of constitutional protections,” said Oren Nimni, an attorneys at the Lawyers’ Committee representing the eight plaintiffs from Haiti and El Salvador. “Today’s lawsuit seeks similar relief on behalf of the thousands of hard-working Salvadoran and Haitian immigrants currently receiving TPS protection.”

 

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