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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a racial discrimination lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Homeland Security, the current head of the agency, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and the former acting head of the agency, Elaine C. Duke, over the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.
The lawsuit, which the group filed in the U.S. District Court in Maryland, argues that the agency and its leaders’ move “discriminates against immigrants of color” and asks the court to void the decision and reinstate the status for thousands of Haitians. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is a separate organization from the NAACP, is representing the NAACP and its Haitian members and says the the Department of Homeland Security took “irrational and discriminatory government action, denying Haitian immigrants their right to due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment.”
“Governmental decisions that target people based on racial discrimination violate our Constitution,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in a statement. “The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants was infected by racial discrimination. 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 references in the lawsuit President Donald Trump’s alleged derogatory comments about Haitians and about limiting immigrants from the island nation to increase immigration from European countries.
In open letter, Haitian-American diplomats say Trump’s comments caused ‘heartbreak and despair’
“On January 11, 2018, during a meeting on immigration with several U.S. Senators, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and Defendant Nielsen, the President stated that he did not want immigrants from African countries, which he derided as ‘shithole countries,’” the complaint reads. “The President also asked, ‘Why do we need more Haitians?’ and directed that Haitian immigrants should not be admitted through any proposed immigration plan. In stark contrast, the President stated that immigrants from countries ‘like Norway’ were more desirable and should be admitted. As Senator Richard Durbin pointed out during the meeting, President Trump’s singling out of Haitians for exclusion was ‘an obvious racial decision.’”
The complaint also points to reports that the president said all Haitians “have AIDS” and argues that President Trump’s “racial bias against Haitian immigrants recalls America’s long, ignominious history of discrimination against Haiti, the world’s first Black republic.” The lawsuit also states that officials at the Department of Homeland Security sought crime data on Haitians with Temporary Protected Status, as well as information on how many Haitian nationals were receiving public benefits in an effort to use “false anti-Black stereotypes about criminality and exploitation of public benefits.”
Tyler Houlton, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said in an email Wednesday night that “as a matter of policy, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
Temporary Protected Status covers hundreds of thousands of people who are living in the United States and who are temporarily unable to return to their countries of origin because of safety concerns or other issues. Haitians gained the status days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the country in January 2010.
President Barack Obama repeatedly renewed the 18-month protected status for Haitians. But in November, the Trump administration announced that it would not renew the status for thousands of Haitians when it expires next year.
The administration also announced in January that it would not renew the status for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador. Their status will also end in 2019.
See the full lawsuit below
NAACP sues over Trump’s decision to rescind protected status for Haitians (PDF)
NAACP sues over Trump’s decision to rescind protected status for Haitians (Text)
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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