Ramos v. Nielsen

Decision Date06 August 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 18-cv-01554-EMC
Parties Crista RAMOS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Kirstjen NIELSEN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Katelyn Rowe, Sean Ashley Commons, Alycia Ann Degen, Amanda Robin Farfel, Andrew Brian Talai, Marisol Ramirez, Sidley Austin LLP, Ahilan Thevanesan Arulanantham, ACLU of Southern California, Emilou MacLean, Jessica Karp Bansal, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Mark E. Haddad, Los Angeles, CA, Nicole Marie Ryan, Ryan M. Sandrock, Sidley Austin LLP, William S. Freeman, ACLU Foundation of Northern California, San Francisco, CA, Rhett Martin, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Rhett Martin, U.S. Department of Justice, Kevin M. Snell, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


EDWARD M. CHEN, United States District Judge

In 1990, Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, creating the "Temporary Protected Status" (TPS) program. See Pub. L. 102-232 (1991). The TPS statute codifies a long-standing practice: "every Administration since and including that of President Eisenhower has permitted one or more groups of otherwise deportable aliens to remain temporarily in the United States out of concern that the forced repatriation of these individuals could endanger their lives or safety." H.R. Rep. 100-627, at 6 (1988). TPS is thus a humanitarian program: it authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to temporarily permit nationals from certain countries to live and work in the United States when an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other conditions prevent the safe return of those persons to their countries of origin. See 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b)(1)(A)-(C). Since 1990, several countries have received TPS status.

At issue here are the designations for El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan. Sudan was designated for TPS in 1997 on account of a brutal civil war. Its TPS designation was extended periodically by every administration until late 2017, when Defendants announced that Sudan's status would be terminated. Similarly, Nicaragua was designated in 1999 due to Hurricane Mitch; El Salvador was designated in 2001 and Haiti in 2010, both on the basis of devastating earthquakes. Each country's TPS designation was periodically extended on every occasion until late 2017. Between October 2017 and January 2018, Defendants announced that TPS status for all four countries would be terminated by November 2, 2018 (Sudan), January 5, 2019 (Nicaragua), July 22, 2019 (Haiti), and September 9, 2019 (El Salvador).

These TPS designations have given rise to a sizeable population of over 200,000 people who have lived in the United States with lawful status pursuant thereto for 10-20 years. Many have built careers, bought homes, married, and had children—children who are U.S. citizens.

Plaintiffs in this case are TPS-beneficiaries and their U.S.-citizen children. At the crux of their compliant is an allegation that Defendants, under the President's influence, have adopted a new interpretation of the TPS statute. Whereas prior administrations evaluated the severity of intervening events when considering whether to extend TPS, the present administration allegedly ignores those events and focuses solely on whether the original rationale for TPS continues to exist.

Plaintiffs assert four legal claims. First, the U.S.-citizen children between the ages of 5 and 18 allege that Defendants' termination violates their substantive due process rights because the Government—without good reason—is forcing them to choose between living in the United States without their parents or leaving their country of citizenship to return to countries they maintain are unsafe. Second, Plaintiffs allege that the termination of TPS and adoption of a new interpretation of the TPS statute violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee because itthey were based on President Trump's racial animus against persons from those countries and his alleged disdain for non-white immigrants. Third, the TPS beneficiaries allege that Defendants have violated their substantive due process rights because they have not advanced a reasonable basis to terminate their TPS status of the countries in question or to change their interpretation of the TPS statute. Finally, the TPS-beneficiaries allege that Defendants' actions violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) because Defendants departed from long-standing policy and practice without acknowledging the change or providing good reasons for it.

Defendants have moved to dismiss on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claims or review the Secretary's decisions with respect to TPS. Defendants also maintain that, even if the Court has jurisdiction, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim on any theory.

A hearing was held on June 22, 2018. See Docket Nos. 35, 39. On June 25, 2018, this Court issued a summary order denying the motion (Docket No. 34). This order elaborates on that order and addresses intervening case law.


Plaintiffs are nine persons who have permission to live and work in the United States because their countries of origin have been designated for "Temporary Protected Status" (TPS) and four U.S.-citizen children whose parents currently hold TPS status. See Compl. ¶¶ 16-29. The TPS holders come from Sudan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti, four countries that have continuously been designated for TPS since 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2010, respectively. Pursuant to these TPS designations, Plaintiffs with TPS have been lawfully present in the United States from approximately ten to twenty years. Despite long-standing practice periodically extending TPS designations for these four countries, Defendants announced that TPS would be terminated over a three month period between October 2017 and January 2018. As a result, over 200,000 residents who have resided in the United States for years, some for decades, stand to lose their permission to live and work in the United States and will be subject to deportation. Below, the Court summarizes Plaintiffs' personal experiences as well as the history of TPS designations for each of the four countries at issue.

A. Plaintiffs' Backgrounds

The following is a sample of Plaintiffs' backgrounds alleged in the Complaint.

1. Hiwaida Elarabi (Sudan)

Plaintiff Hiwaida Elarabi is originally Sudanese, but has lived in the United States since 1997 with TPS status. Compl. ¶ 29. She came to the United States with a valid visitor's visa in 1997 to visit her aunt and family (all of whom are U.S. citizens); the security situation in Sudan deteriorated during her stay. Compl. ¶ 65. For that reason, the United States government designated Sudan for TPS and Ms. Elarabi was permitted to remain in the United States because she could not safely return to Sudan. Id. She has spent the past 20 years here because the United States has extended Sudan's TPS designation at every relevant interval. In the United States, Ms. Elarabi a Master's degree in Bioinformatics from Brandeis University. Id. For 16 years, she worked as a Health Educator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Id. In 2015, she borrowed money to open a restaurant. Id. After Defendants terminated Sudan's TPS designation, she "made the difficult decision to sell it, at great cost" because "her future was uncertain and she did not know whether she would be able to sustain the restaurant." Id. Now, she must leave the country she has lived in since 1997.

2. Elsy Yolanda Flores de Ayala, Maria Jose and Juan Eduardo (El Salvador)

Plaintiff Elsy Yolanda Flores de Ayala was born in El Salvador. Her mother, father, and siblings fled El Salvador in the 1980s due to the country's brutal civil war, but she could not make the journey because she was too young. Compl. ¶ 60. Her immediate relatives are now U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. In 2000, Ms. Flores de Ayala married, and migrated to the United States with her daughter, Plaintiff Maria Jose Ayala Flores, a one-year-old at the time. Id. While they were in the United States, devastating earthquakes struck El Salvador. Id. The United States determined that nationals of El Salvador could not safely return and designated the country for TPS. Id. Ms. Flores de Ayala and her daughter, Maria Jose, been living in the United States since 2000 with TPS protection. In the United States, Ms. Flores de Ayala has worked as a domestic worker and child-care provider for over fourteen years. Id.

Maria Jose, Ms. Flores de Ayala's daughter, is now 19-year-old. Compl. ¶ 59. She was brought to the United States as an infant and has lived virtually her whole life here under the umbrage of TPS. Id. All her schooling has taken place here. Id. In 2016, she graduated high school. Id. She did not learn of her TPS status until she applied for college and realized she was ineligible for many scholarships. Id. Currently, she is studying mathematics at Montgomery College in Maryland and would like to teach math to elementary students. Id. However, if Defendants' termination of TPS for El Salvador takes effect, she will be required to leave the only country she has known and will be unable to complete her studies.

Ms. Flores de Ayala's youngest son, Juan Eduardo, is a U.S.-citizen. Compl. ¶ 53. He was born in the United States and is also a plaintiff in this case. Id. He is currently in seventh grade. Id. He may have no choice but to return to El Salvador with his parents and siblings, or be separated from them and placed with another family if he remains in the country of his citizenship to complete his education. Id.

3. Hnaidi Cenemat and Wilna Destin (Haiti)

The plaintiffs from Nicaragua and Haiti will confront similar hardship. Plaintiff Hnaidi Cenemat is also a U.S.-citizen, fourteen years old, whose mother, Plaintiff Wilna Destin, was born in...

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