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During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., questioned whether the decision by the Trump administration to terminate protected status for immigrants from Haiti was “racially motivated.”

In her opening remarks, Feinstein said that President Donald Trump’s alleged remarks in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers last Thursday, in which he allegedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations as “shithole countries,” compelled her to ask if race is guiding the administration’s immigration policies, The Hill reported.

“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 Nielsen.

“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,” Feinstein said, adding, “I hope not.”

In 2017, the Trump administration terminated Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, who had been protected from deportation following a devastating earthquake in 2010.

More recently, the administration also eliminated protected status for more than 260,000 immigrants from El Salvador, which was granted following a 2001 earthquake.

On Tuesday, Nielsen justified ending TPS for those from El Salvador, contending that the program was never intended 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 the decision to end such protections was difficult due to the human element involved, and recommended that Congress consider 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.”

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