BOSTON -- Two civil rights organizations sued the Trump administration Friday on behalf of 15 Liberian immigrants over the president's decision to end a humanitarian program that allows them to live and work in the U.S.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the lawsuit in federal court in Boston.
The lawsuit challenges President Donald Trump's decision in March 2018 to end the Deferred Enforced Departure program, which has been renewed by previous Democratic and Republican administrations. It is due to expire at the end of this month.
The lawsuit says the decision is unconstitutional and based on race, ethnicity and national origin, and would break apart families. Some of the Liberian immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens.
"Defendant Trump has a history of bigoted remarks and actions that make clear that he holds racial animus against immigrants of color," according to the lawsuit.
The program protects about 4,000 Liberian immigrants who came from the African nation to escape environmental disasters, the Ebola virus and war, the organizations said.
An email seeking comment on the lawsuit was sent to the Justice Department. A memo signed by Trump last year says conditions in the country have improved, so the program is no longer needed.
"We will not stand idly by as immigrants of color are threatened with detention and deportation," said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, in an emailed statement. "We will not allow the Trump Administration to trample on our dignity and our constitutional rights. We will resist all forms of discrimination, and we will hold the Trump Administration accountable for attacking Liberian families."
In addition to the 15 Liberian immigrants, the organizations African Communities Together and the UndocuBlack Network are named as plaintiffs.
Separately on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced an 18-month of extension of another blanket form of humanitarian relief called Temporary Protected Status for fewer than 100 people from South Sudan. The department said in a press release that "ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions" in the African nation justified the extension to Nov. 2, 2020.
The decision was a mixed bag for South Sudanese because it applies only to those in the United States continuously since May 3, 2016. More recent arrivals are ineligible.
The Trump administration has ended Temporary Protected Status for several other countries but faces legal challenges. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the administration on withdrawing the benefit for people of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.