US District Judge Edward Chen granted a preliminary injunction stopping the government from terminating temporary protected status, or TPS, for immigrants from Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua.
Chen ruled that the government must maintain TPS, and employment authorizations for TPS beneficiaries from those countries, while a lawsuit challenging the government's decision to eliminate their protections continues.
TPS protects migrants in the United States from countries that have been hit by dire conditions, such as epidemics, war or natural disaster. Previous administrations had opted to extend the protections for most of the countries involved every few years when they came up for review, but the Trump administration has moved toward ending protections for the majority of immigrants under the program, arguing that the initial conditions that necessitated them are no longer present.
The judge's decision comes a week after a hearing in the case. It goes into effect immediately and is particularly welcome news for TPS recipients from Sudan, who were less than a month away from losing their protections.
"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it," said Salma Ahmed of Chicago.
The 21-year-old, who was born in Sudan and has lived in the United States since she was 2, attended last week's court hearing in San Francisco and was heartened to hear the judge recognize the urgency of the situation she and many others face.
"My hopes just got higher and higher," she told CNN Wednesday night. "I wasn't expecting it right now, but this is good."
Judge: Decisions may have been based on 'animus against non-white, non-European immigrants'
Immigrants and their family members filed this class-action lawsuit in March over the ending of TPS for Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua, alleging that the government terminated protections as a result of a predetermined agenda that violated the law. The judge has previously allowed the lawsuit to proceed and forced the production of internal documents, including email exchanges between officials pushing for the terminations
In his ruling Wednesday, Chen said there is evidence that the administration may have violated the Constitution when it made decisions to end TPS.
"There is also evidence that this may have been done in order to implement and justify a pre-ordained result desired by the White House. Plaintiffs have also raised serious questions whether the actions taken by the Acting Secretary or Secretary was influenced by the White House and based on animus against non-white, non-European immigrants in violation of Equal Protection guaranteed by the Constitution," Chen wrote. "The issues are at least serious enough to preserve the status quo."
"The Court's decision usurps the role of the executive branch in our constitutional order," Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement Wednesday night.
"The Court contends that the duly elected President of the United States cannot be involved in matters deciding the safety and security of our nation's citizens or in the enforcement of our immigration laws," the statement said. "The Justice Department completely rejects the notion that the White House or the Department of Homeland Security did anything improper. We will continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security."
The Department of Homeland Security said it could not comment on pending litigation.
An attorney for plaintiffs in the case praised the judge's decision.
"Judge Chen's ruling vindicates the brave struggle of TPS holders to defend the Constitution in the face of the Trump administration's discriminatory attack on this humanitarian program on which so many hundreds of thousands of people rely," Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Crista Ramos, a 14-year-old US citizen whose mother is a TPS holder from El Salvador.
"I was so happy when I found out about the judge's decision. Ever since the TPS terminations were announced, I have been wondering how I can live a normal life if I am about to lose my mom," Ramos said in a statement Wednesday night. "Today, my family and I are celebrating. Tomorrow, we will continue our fight for permanent status for TPS holders."