The largest and oldest civil rights organization in the United States has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 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 (TPS) for Haitian immigrants.
The lawsuit, which the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed in the US District Court in Maryland on Wednesday, argues that the agency and its leaders’ move “discriminates against immigrants of color.”
The suit asks the court to void the decision and reinstate the status for thousands of Haitians, according to the Public Broadcasting Service News Hour (PBS).
PBS said the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is a separate organization from the NAACP, is representing the NAACP and its Haitian members and says DHS “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,” she added.
To make its case, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund references in the lawsuit President Donald J. Trump’s alleged derogatory comments about Haitians and about limiting immigrants from the French-speaking Caribbean nation to increase immigration from European countries.
“On Jan. 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,” the complaint adds. “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 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 DHS sought crime data on Haitians with TTPS, 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.”
TPS 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, PBS noted, adding that 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.
Tyler Q. Houlton, acting DHS press secretary, said as a matter of policy, the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
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,” according to the Miami Herald.
It noted that, 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.