The NAACP is asking a federal judge to void a decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to end temporary protections for nearly 60,000 Haitian immigrants who until last year had been allowed to remain legally in the United States following a deadly earthquake in their disaster-prone homeland.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund argues that Acting Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke’s November decision to end Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Haiti as of July 2019 is “irrational and discriminatory,” and influenced by President Donald Trump’s “public hostility toward immigrants of color.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s suit was filed on behalf of the NAACP and the civil rights group’s Haitian members. The legal defense fund and the NAACP became two separate entities in 1957. The lawsuit names DHS, Duke and current Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as defendants. All denied Haitian immigrants their right to due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment as DHS departed from its “normal decision making process in regards to whether or not Haitians should still receive the humanitarian protection,” the lawsuit alleges.
Tyler Q. Houlton, acting DHS press secretary, said as a matter of policy, the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
In November, Duke announced that she was ending TPS, which had shielded Haitians from deportations ever since the January 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti left more than 300,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless.
Haiti, DHS said, “had made significant progress since 2010, and therefore its nationals would receive a final 18-month delay to get their affairs in order before the protection comes to a permanent end on July 22, 2019. DHS’ decision was heavily criticized by Haitian and immigration advocates who argued that Haiti still had not fully rebounded from the quake, a deadly cholera epidemic and a series of hurricanes that hit it in recent years.
“The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants was infected by racial discrimination,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, who heads the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Every step taken by the Department to reach this decision reveals that far from a rational and fact-based determination, this decision was driven by calculated, determined and intentional discrimination against Haitian immigrants.”
To make its case, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund cited numerous news articles about Trump and DHS as they weighed whether to extend TPS to Haiti. It also noted the disparaging comments Trump made both as president and as a presidential candidate about Haitians, Mexicans and other immigrants.
The suit, for example, notes a May 2017 news story by the Associated Press that detailed U.S. immigration officials’ hunt for criminal data on Haitians with TPS and the number who received public benefits.
“The administration’s efforts to gather this data on Haitian TPS recipients trades on false anti-Black stereotypes about criminality and exploitation of public benefits, and suggests the effort to manufacture a public safety rationale” for the decision, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also argues that as president, Trump has articulated his antipathy toward Haitians on several occasions including during a June Oval Office meeting where he reportedly lamented that 15,000 Haitians who had received visas to enter the United States “all have AIDS.”
“By the time Defendant Duke rescinded Haiti’s TPS status in November 2017, President Trump had already made his discriminatory intent against Haitian immigrants clear,” the NAACP said in the suit.
The White House denied the AIDS comment. Trump also recently denied reports that he referred to Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations as “shithole countries” during a recent meeting with lawmakers over immigration.
“President Trump has made clear that he wishes to reduce the number of immigrants of color to the United States. The rescission of Haiti’s TPS is part of that agenda,” the lawsuit alleges. “DHS’s decision to rescind Haiti’s TPS designation was infected with the intention to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said while policies such as these don’t generally belong in the courts, “we have to acknowledge that the immigration policies of this administration seem more and more clearly rooted in racism and racial animus.”
While the ACLU is not a party to the NAACP’s lawsuit, it is challenging an executive order that Trump signed banning travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. It is also suing Miami-Dade County over its decision to detain suspected immigration offenders for federal authorities and investigating reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents walked the aisle of a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale demanding proof of citizenship from passengers.
“When Trump says we need a Muslim ban to protect the country from terrorists, when he says we need a wall to protect the safety of our communities, what he’s saying is ugly racism; Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are criminals,” Simon said. “The more he talks, the more the doors of the courtrooms of this country should be open to challenging immigration policies that clearly seem to be based on race and ethnicity.”
In addition to Haiti, DHS has also terminated TPS for nationals of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan. It extended the designation for South Sudan and delayed a decision for Honduras, which automatically gave the Central American nation a six-month extension.