Lawsuit says race motivated Trump to end immigrant protections
President Donald Trump (AFP/File / SAUL LOEB)

A group of Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants on Thursday filed a lawsuit claiming that the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to terminate the protections that allowed them to remain in the country was racially motivated.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston seeks to challenge the Trump administration's decision to terminate the temporary protective status enjoyed by thousands of immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador.

The lawsuit cited statements it said showed the Republican president's "dislike and disregard for Latino and Black immigrants," most recently in reported remarks in January by Trump saying immigrants from Africa and Haiti come from "shithole countries."

"The animus directed towards Latino and Black immigrants is a clear and unfortunate thread running throughout President Trump's statements - and is actualized by his Administration’s policies, such as the ones challenged by this lawsuit," the complaint said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.

Temporary protective status, or TPS, offers protection from deportation to immigrants already in the United States, including those who entered illegally, from countries affected by natural disasters, civil conflicts and other problems.

Some 200,000 Salvadorans had been allowed to live in the United States under that program in the wake of two devastating 2001 earthquakes in their home country that left hundreds of thousands living there homeless.

About 59,000 Haitian immigrants were likewise protected from deportation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. Democratic President Barack Obama's administration extended the status several times after the initial designation.

In January, the Trump administration announced that the Salvadorans' temporary protected status would end on Sept. 9, 2019, giving them 18 months to leave or seek lawful residency.

That move came after the administration in November ended TPS for people from Haiti, similarly giving people from that country 18 months to return to the impoverished Caribbean country or legalize their status in the United States.

In announcing the end of the designations of Haiti and El Salvador for TPS, the Department of Homeland Security said the conditions in those countries no longer supported their special statuses.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice filed Thursday's lawsuit on behalf of six immigrants from El Salvador and two from Haiti as well as Centro Presente, a Massachusetts-based Latin American immigrant organization.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a similar case in January over the decision to rescind TPS for Haitian immigrants.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci)