Some 4,000 Liberians facing the end of U.S. immigration protections in just a few weeks could see some relief through a new lawsuit filed on their behalf.

The lawsuit filed March 8 in federal district court in Massachusetts is the first to challenge the Trump administration’s decision to end deferred enforced departure for nationals of the African nation, many of whom have lived and worked in the U.S. for two decades. It was filed on behalf of two African immigrant organizations and 15 named Liberians covered by DED.

The legal action seeks to prevent Liberians from losing their status March 31, the date the administration has set for the end of the program.

DED is similar to temporary protected status, which also allows foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. if an armed conflict or natural disaster makes returning to their home countries unsafe.

As with DED, the administration announced the end of TPS for the nationals of six countries: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. A court order has prevented implementation of that decision for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Another lawsuit is pending with respect to the decisions for Honduras and Nepal, which were made after the first lawsuit was filed.

The House Judiciary Committee recently took up the issue of Liberians with DED at a hearing also focused on immigrants affected by the administration’s ending of TPS and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But with DED ending in a matter of weeks, Liberians in the program can’t afford to wait for Congress to act, speakers said during a March 8 press call.

Trump’s Comments Again in Play

The lawsuit over DED accuses the Trump administration of discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, and/or national origin when making the decision to end the program for Liberians, similar to what was alleged in the TPS lawsuits.

The administration “immediately started to roll back critical protections in humanitarian aid programs” after President Donald Trump’s reported comments about Haiti and African nations being “shithole countries,” Dorian Spence of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in response to a question from Bloomberg Law during the press call. The committee is representing the Liberians and organizations that brought the lawsuit.

Trump has “ridiculed and mocked African people for purportedly living in huts,” stoked “unreasonable fear” about “false claims of attacks on white farmers in South Africa,” and spoken about Nambia, “a country that does not exist,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which also is providing legal counsel.

The decision to end DED was “a manifestation of those bigoted views,” said Spence, who serves as director of special litigation and advocacy for the Lawyers’ Committee.

Representatives for the White House and Homeland Security Department weren’t immediately available for comment.

Constitutional Violations Alleged

The lawsuit alleges that the administration violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process and equal protection guarantees.

There are procedures that both Republican and Democratic administrations have undertaken when reassessing Liberian DED over the years, and the Trump administration’s “deviation from those procedures is obviously concerning to us,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “It failed to do any of the typical consultations” with the State Department and Liberian government “that have characterized each and every evaluation or assessment” over the years, he said.

“We believe this, in and of itself, constitutes strong evidence that the president is out of line with regular practice when it comes to evaluating the program, but also motivated principally by a desire to discriminate,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.

The decision to end DED is within the president’s discretion, but “he is not above the Constitution,” Spence said.

The lawsuit is seeking an expedited court order keeping DED in place.

The case is African Communities Together v. Trump, D. Mass., No. 1:19-cv-10432, complaint filed 3/8/19.