Haitians in South Florida, New York latest to sue Trump over TPS

Ronyde Christina Ponthieux, 10, cries with her father Rony Ponthieux by her side, as she speaks to the media about the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS for thousands of Haitians, Nov. 21, 2017.
Ronyde Christina Ponthieux, 10, cries with her father Rony Ponthieux by her side, as she speaks to the media about the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS for thousands of Haitians, Nov. 21, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A group of South Florida Haitian immigrants are among the latest plaintiffs challenging President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status, which — until recently — has shielded them from deportation.

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in the Eastern District of New York, the plaintiffs argue that Trump and the Department of Homeland Security “employed an invalid and unauthorized process to terminate Haiti’s TPS designation irrespective of the statutory criteria for review enacted by Congress.”

The plaintiffs include three South Floridians, seven New Yorkers, the weekly Brooklyn-based Haitian newspaper, Haïti Liberté, and a Miami-based Haitian rights advocacy group, Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, an organization previously known as the Haitian Women of Miami.

“People are afraid to go to the supermarkets. Businesses are suffering ...We’ve definitely seen an increase in the level of services requested from families as a result of the termination of TPS and it’s not only within the Haitian population. Immigrant families in general are suffering,” said Marleine Bastien, FANM’s founder and executive director. “Family members are keeping children away from schools because of the fear.”

Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator with the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, noted that one of the plaintiffs is a New York man with cerebral palsy whose caretaker died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake and now is dependent on his brother, a U.S. citizen, for his personal and medical care.

“What is supposed to happen to this man?” asked Forester, who lives in Miami. “The human dimension of this should not be forgotten.”

The federal complaint is the fourth TPS-related suit — and the second one filed this week against Trump and Homeland Security, which last year rescinded the temporary protected status for citizens of Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador after granting them a final 18-month extension.

Miami’s Ira Kurzban, one of the lawyers who filed the suit along with the Boston-based National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, said all of the lawsuits raise similar claims that the decision to end TPS violated procedures and TPS holders’ due process, and was rooted in the president’s “racially discriminatory attitude toward all brown and black people.”

“The president can’t say, ‘I want to do this because I don’t like black people or Haitians, I don’t want them here,’ ” Kurzban said, referring to comments Trump has reportedly made privately about about Haitians having AIDS and Haiti, El Salvador and African nations being “shithole” countries. Trump has denied the comments.

President Donald Trump denied in a tweet on Thursday that he asked during a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded to the tweet on

Kurzban said the suit, which represents Haitians from the two states with the largest concentration of TPS holders, Florida and New York, also makes specific claims that the end of TPS would adversely affect sales of Haïti Liberté because the newspaper would lose its main writer, a TPS holder, and that FANM would be forced to divert limited resources to help resettle Haitian nationals and provide other assistance.

On Monday, a similar suit was filed in San Francisco by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the law firm of Sidley Austin.

It, too, argues that the administration violated TPS’ equal protection guarantee under the due process clause, and the administration’s view of TPS is restrictive, unconstitutional and adopted “to further the administration’s anti-immigrant, white supremacist agenda.”

Other suits have been filed in federal court in Boston on behalf of Salvadorans and Haitians with TPS, and in Maryland by the NAACP Legal Defense.

The new lawsuit focuses exclusively on Haiti, which was granted TPS by the Obama administration after the country’s devastating earthquake.

Kurzban said while Trump has some broad powers with respect to TPS, which was enacted by Congress in 1990, he doesn’t have “unfettered discretion.”

“The termination was based on the president’s categorical and defamatory assertions about all Haitians, which the Haitian TPS recipients were given no opportunity to challenge,” the complaint said about Trump.

Sejal Zota, legal director of the National Immigration Project, said four lawsuits will “present a real test” for DHS.

Zota said her group took on the case because, after the group examined conditions in Haiti, “it becomes very clear conditions justifying TPS continue to persist.”

DHS granted Haitians a six-month extension in May under Secretary John Kelly. DHS announced TPS termination in November, after a final 18-month extension until July 2019, under Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke.

The suit notes that DHS in 2016 identified seven key areas justifying ongoing TPS designation for Haiti but that when the revocation was announced, DHS “failed to explain how — in less than a year — Haiti had managed to overcome the seven key justifications identified by DHS in December 2016 to maintain TPS” including housing shortages, a cholera epidemic and damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

“Similarly, it failed to explain how Haiti had managed to overcome the list of extraordinary conditions that existed only months earlier when Kelly had reauthorized Haiti’s TPS designation,” the suit said.

Kurzban called the TPS decision on Haiti “an abuse of discretion.”

“Make no mistake, Trump’s decision to terminate Haitian TPS is motivated by his repellent bias towards Haitians and other people of color,” he said.