Caravan wheels into Philly on heels of court victory on temporary protected status

The Journey for Justice bus visits Philadelphia Friday as part of a 50-city journey to raise awareness of the temporary protected status that's in danger of dissolution. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

The Journey for Justice bus visits Philadelphia Friday as part of a 50-city journey to raise awareness of the temporary protected status that's in danger of dissolution. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Two days after a federal judge in California halted the termination of temporary protected status, known as TPS, for more than 300,000 immigrants, a busload of people trying to raise awareness about the issue pulled up outside Philadelphia City Hall.

A brightly-painted touring van, whose passengers call their voyage Journey for Justice — or Jornada por la Justicia in Spanish — left Los Angeles on Aug. 17 with a plan to visit 50 cities over three months to call attention to the lives hanging in the balance of the program.

Members of the group have called the preliminary injunction a “relief” and a “victory,” but they say it’s the job of Congress, not the courts, to figure out a path forward.

“We are all celebrating, and some people are saying it’s a small triumph. But for us, it’s a very big win,” said Francis Garcia, a TPS-holder from Las Vegas. Garcia is originally from Honduras, which is not one of the four countries named in the injunction.

The U.S. government gives the humanitarian status to foreign nationals who would be in danger — from war, disease, or natural disaster — if deported to their home countries. It periodically reviews the designation and decides whether to extend it or end the protection from deportation. Currently U.S. residents from 10 countries qualify for TPS; under President Donald Trump, the federal government has announced it is phasing out the program for six of those nations.

Late Wednesday, California-based U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen blocked the federal government from taking away TPS from citizens of Sudan, Haiti, El Salvador, and Nicaragua living in the United States, a move that affects the vast majority of U.S. residents with the status, and more than a quarter million of their U.S. citizen children. Before the recent ruling, TPS recipients from Sudan were set to lose their status as of Nov.2.

“The decision to end TPS for these communities is simply un-American,” said Miriam Enriquez, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “It’s bad policy to take away these protections without any thought or plan for the U.S.-born children who may lose their parents or caregivers.”

About 2,500 people in Pennsylvania are TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, the most populous national origin groups in the program, according to the Center for American Progress.

In his decision, Chen said there are “serious questions” on whether removing TPS was the result of “animus against non-white, non-European immigrants in violation of equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution.” He also wrote that the U.S.-born children of TPS-holders will suffer “irreparable harm and great hardship” if their parents’ path to remain legally in the U.S. is wiped away.

Officials in the Trump administration have argued that TPS — by definition — is intended to be temporary, and that the perpetual renewal of the status amounts to rubber-stamping permanent residency even as the reasons for the initial determinations fade away.

“Congress should pass a law to give permanent status to those who’ve had temporary protected status. I am not going to bow to political pressure, however, to break the law to do Congress’s job,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told NPR earlier this year.

The temporary nature of TPS also puts its recipients in a bind. Lawfully able to reside in the U.S. for years, they start families that include U.S. citizen kids, buy homes and pay taxes. Without the status, those who have another path to legal residency can pursue it; those who do not are forced to choose between abandoning their families or going underground.

“We’ve been working and contributing for 20 years,” said Maria Turcios, a TPS-holder from Honduras living in Philadelphia. She, like Nielsen, said the limbo her community feels can only end with an act of Congress.

After making their case in the Mayor’s Reception Room, the Journey for Justice travelers climbed back into their waiting bus. Saturday, they go to Long Island. Their last stop will be Washington, D.C.

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