Last week’s court decision upholding the Trump Administration’s termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 250,000 people from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan is frightening, raising the specter of people uprooted from families and communities and sent back to countries reeling from war, repression and natural disaster.
But it is only one step in a long legal battle; meanwhile, the fate of all those people will be decided by voters on Nov. 3, not by the current administration or by judges.
Monday’s split decision in Ramos vs. Wolf, by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, reverses a 2018 preliminary injunction from a Federal District Court in California. That court found that President Trump’s references to El Salvador, Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” — and many other things — was evidence of unconstitutional racial animus. Two of the three judges on the panel, one a Trump appointee, disagreed, claiming -- improbably -- that the president’s many public and private statements may not have influenced his appointees’ TPS termination decisions.
The TPS victims will now request a rehearing before a larger Ninth Circuit panel. Whether or not that request is granted, whichever side is losing will likely appeal to the Supreme Court.
This will all take time — perhaps a year or more — and the government has already stipulated that it will not actually terminate TPS until the appeals process is completed. Haitians, even if they lose in the Ramos case, are independently protected by a separate injunction issued by a New York Federal Judge in the Saget vs. Trump case.
The real decision point for TPS recipients is Nov. 3. The candidates and their parties have presented stark alternatives. President Trump has persistently kept his promise to dismantle TPS and send recipients to their home countries, and there is every reason to believe this steadfastness would continue under a second Trump Administration.
Vice-President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has promised to protect TPS holders from being returned to unsafe countries and to work for a path to citizenship for long-term TPS holders through immigration reform. Such legislation will require action by Congress, and Democrats in South Florida have committed to a path to citizenship for long-term TPS holders. Two of them, Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, are in close races against Trump supporters.
The fate of TPS recipients — and of so much else — may lie in the hands of Florida voters. We know the contributions that the over 5,000 TPS holders in our state make to our communities and economy — including adding $1.7 billion to our GDP. We understand what it means to be uprooted from family and forcibly returned to a country suffering natural disaster or repressive government.
We remember that just 537 Florida votes in 2000 made the difference between President George Bush and a President Al Gore. President Trump and his allies know this as well and that is , which is why they are working so hard to suppress the votes of people who support immigration reform.
They tried to put an illegal immigration question on the 2020 census to deter immigrant participation.
On Nov. 3, polling places serving immigrant communities will see long lines, fewer resources, and an intimidating and unnecessary law enforcement presence, as they usually do.
But Florida voters still have the power to make our votes count. Eligible voters not yet registered can do so at registertovoteFlorida.gov through Oct. 5. We can request our ballots early (Miami-Dade residents can just call 305-499-8683), and return them immediately.
We can encourage and help our friends, family and neighbors to vote early too. The safety of our TPS-recipient community — and so much else--depends on us stepping up and maximizing our voting rights.
Marleine Bastien, MSW, LCSW is the Executive Director of FANM in Action in Miami. Immigration attorney Ira Kurzban is the lead lawyer in Saget vs. Trump.