For the umpteenth time, the facts didn’t matter to the members of the Trump administration. This time, a federal judge last week called them on it, resolutely.
U.S. District Judge William Kuntz, of New York, blocked the Department of Homeland Security from deporting up to 60,000 Haitians in this country covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In 2017, President Trump petulantly terminated TPS for Haitians and citizens of several other countries after reluctantly granting one final extension. TPS, created by Congress in 1990, protected them from deportation to countries in the throes of recovering from natural disasters or violent political turmoil.
The ruling is the second shot across the administration’s bow in six months. In October, federal Judge Edward Chen, of the Northern District of California, ordered a temporary injunction that blocked citizens of Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador from deportation.
In the Haitians’ case, the Obama administration granted TPS to thousands after a 2010 earthquake devastated huge swaths of their country. Nine years out, Haiti has yet to fully recover. Factor in a cholera epidemic and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and it’s obvious that the poorest nation in the hemisphere cannot absorb the thousands who would be forced to return. Obvious to most, of course, except the Trump administration.
South Florida, naturally, would be hard hit if deportations occurred. There are about 24,000 Haitians with TPS in the region. They have gamely remade their lives, found jobs, gone to school, grown families and contributed financially and socially to the country that gave them a reprieve.
After a three-day trial in Brooklyn, New York earlier this year, Kuntz found that, instead of basing its decision on conditions on the island, as required by law — woefully incomplete quake recovery, many thousands still homeless, exacerbated by Hurricane Matthew’s landfall, one of the worst storms ever to hit Haiti, a cholera epidemic, plus perpetual political instability — the White House unlawfully started with a pre-determined goal to terminate TPS, then worked backward to rationalize getting there.
The suit, which included several plaintiffs from South Florida, contended that the administration’s decision is based on a “racially discriminatory attitude toward all brown and black people.” That’s a hard one to refute with a straight face. Trump officials intentionally ignored or misrepresented conditions on the ground in Haiti. Their contortions were obvious: looking for evidence of Haitian “criminality,” although criminals aren’t eligible for TPS; peddling the refuted stereotype that Haitians were AIDS carriers; referring last year Haiti, among other nations, as “shitholes.”
Career officials’ analyses were discarded. It was clear that Haitians already covered by TPS merited an extension based on how severe and recent the blows were that their country had sustained. Just the cholera epidemic alone, introduced by U.N. troops, had killed 10,000, sickened 800,000 and was still raging at the time of the administration’s cruel decision. The evidence of extraordinary conditions was overwhelming. But the administration moved the goalposts, maliciously and incorrectly saying that it could only consider post-quake recovery, not hurricane damage, not rampant disease.
It’s true — “temporary” is part of the program’s name. But facts matter, and the Trump administration maliciously twisted them. Fortunately, the courts continue to get the facts straight.