SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A federal judge in San Francisco Monday turned down a U.S. Justice Department request for dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the planned termination of temporary protected status for immigrants from four countries.
The four counties are El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. Temporary protected status, or TPS, allows people from nations facing upheaval or natural disasters to live and work in the United States on a renewable temporary basis.
The administration of President Donald Trump is planning to end the immigration protection of people from those countries at various times in 2019, citing improved conditions in those nations.
The termination was opposed in a lawsuit filed in March by nine immigrants from the four countries and five citizen children.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen's refusal to dismiss the lawsuit means the case can move on to the next step, which would be a hearing in August or September on the immigrants' bid for a preliminary injunction blocking the termination of their status. A full trial would come later.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the law establishing the TPS program doesn't allow for court review of executive branch decisions on when to grant or terminate the status.
But Chen said the law doesn't prevent constitutional claims or challenges to the "general policies or practices."
The judge also said three claims in the lawsuit were each strong enough to justify keeping them in the case for the time being.
Chen did not make a final ruling of the claims, but rather said they appeared plausible enough to proceed to trial.
One claim was that Trump violated the constitutional right of equal protection by showing racial animus, or prejudice.
The lawsuit cited Trump's alleged reference in January to Haiti, El Salvador and certain African nations as "s---hole countries."
Chen wrote, "Plaintiffs have plausibly pled that President Trump made statements which a reasonable observer could construe as evidence of racial bias animus against non-white immigrants, and that he thereafter influenced and tainted the Department of Homeland Security's decision-making process with regard to TPS."
The judge also said the immigrants could continue to claim that the policy change lacked a legally required "reasoned explanation" and that citizen children of TPS immigrants had rights to remain in the country and to be raised by their parents.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley declined to comment.
Ahilan Arulanantham, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said, "The court found it had authority to consider the important claims raised by the TPS holders and their U.S. citizen children in this case.
"We are proud that our clients have resisted the Trump administration's racist attempts to separate them from their communities," Arulanantham said in a statement.
"We will continue to work to ensure that they receive justice from our government, and look forward to the next phase of this case," he said.
Nationwide, more than 300,000 people from the four counties have been granted TPS approval and some have been in the United States for up to 21 years. They have more than 200,000 children who are citizens.
Chen called his 5-page decision an "abbreviated order" and said he will issue a more detailed opinion later.
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