Feinstein questions DHS secretary on Trump's 'racially motivated' immigration policies

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Young activists press for change in 2020 election MORE (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that she’s afraid the Trump administration’s decisions to end protected status for immigrants from countries that have suffered natural disasters might be “racially motivated.”

In her opening remarks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Feinstein said President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE’s remarks last week that Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations are “shithole countries” has led her to question whether race is driving the administration’s immigration policies.

“In light of the reports about the president’s recent comments, I hope you’re ready to specifically address one issue in particular and that’s the termination of Temporary Protected Status, TPS, for Haitians,” Feinstein said to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Trump admin program sends asylum-seekers to await claims in Mexico, despite fears of violence: report MORE.

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“In light of the president’s comments, I’m forced to question whether the decision to terminate protected status for Haitian nationals was in fact racially motivated. I hope not.”

Last year, Trump ended Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, who had been protected from the threat of deportation following a devastating 2010 earthquake.

More recently, the administration ended the same protected status for more than 260,000 immigrants from El Salvador, a designation that had been granted following a 2001 earthquake.

In a meeting with lawmakers on immigration last week, Trump reportedly said that the U.S. should be looking to take in immigrants from prosperous countries, like Norway, rather than “shithole countries.” 

Democrats have called Trump’s alleged remarks racist.

Nielsen on Tuesday defended ending TPS for El Salvador, saying the program was never meant to be permanent.

“The law does not allow me to look at the country conditions writ large,” Nielsen said. “It requires me to look very specifically as to whether the country conditions from the original designation continue to exist. In this case, the 2001 [earthquake] in El Salvador, we didn’t dispute the country conditions are difficult, but the law requires me, if I cannot say the conditions emanating ... still exist, regardless of other systemic conditions, I must terminate TPS.”

Nielsen acknowledged that there is a human element that makes the decision to end the program difficult and said that Congress should look at making changes to the law.

“I think we should take a look at it, absolutely,” Nielsen said. “This was meant to be a temporary status. The difficulty with that is when people are here for 20 plus years, like with El Salvador, they have roots, they’re contributing to society and making the economy strong so yes, we do need to look at this and find a better way to come up with a permanent solution.”