The oldest civil rights organization in the United States is suing the Trump administration for ending temporary protections for tens of thousands of Haitians.
In a lawsuit filed in Maryland on Wednesday, both the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) — a separate organization — sought a court injunction of a White House decision removing temporary protected status, or TPS, for around 46,000 Haitians living in the United States. TPS is granted to immigrants from countries experiencing severe domestic problems, including war and natural disasters.
President Obama extended TPS to a number of Haitians following a devastating earthquake in 2010. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that status would be canceled in November, leaving the community in limbo. The suit names both former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke and the current agency head Kirstjen Nielsen. The NAACP and LDF argue that the DHS decision violates the statues of TPS and shows racial bias.
“[This] reflects an egregious departure from the TPS statute’s requirements and an intent to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity,” the complaint reads. It notes that, given Haiti’s current “food insecurity…housing shortage, and…cholera epidemic,” the White House’s decision to remove protections could have catastrophic effects.
The suit also argues that DHS’ decision to review protections for Haitians was racially motivated.
“In early 2017, DHS officials searched for evidence that Haitians in the United States were criminals and receiving public assistance. Those efforts were grounded in longstanding and particularly noxious anti-Black stereotypes,” the suit alleges. “Unable to find evidence to support their discriminatory stereotypes, DHS’s Acting Secretary ultimately offered rationales for rescinding TPS that failed to acknowledge — much less address — the ongoing conditions in Haiti that warranted extending that status.”
The NAACP and LDF are asking for the government to restore TPS for Haitians, voiding the Trump administration’s decision and allowing the community to remain in the United States past July 2019, the deadline before which they must leave the country.
TPS recipients have repeatedly come under fire from the Trump administration. The White House announced an end to TPS for thousands of Nicaraguans in November. Two months later, 200,000 Salvadorans faced the same fate. Both countries continue to face extreme domestic problems and activists argue sending TPS recipients back to their home countries could be a death sentence.
That hasn’t dissuaded the Trump administration from taking a hardline stance on immigration, cracking down on undocumented immigrants, threatening so-called sanctuary cities, and actively working to limit the number of highly-skilled visa recipients allowed into the country. The president has also targeted the diversity visa program, accusing other countries of sending the “worst people” to the United States.
Trump’s animosity towards TPS recipients in particular has made headlines over the past 12 months. During a meeting in June, the president reportedly stated that Haitians “all have AIDS” and complained about immigrants’ various nationalities. Earlier this month, on January 11, Trump allegedly referred to nations like Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole” countries, comments the White House initially declined to refute.
Those statements factor heavily into the lawsuit, which also notes that the president, in that same January 11 meeting, asked lawmakers, “Why do we need more Haitians?” and pushed for more immigrants from Norway.
“The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants was infected by racial discrimination,” said LDF head Sherrilyn Ifill. “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.”
While the lawsuit focuses on Haitians in particular, the case could have wide-reaching implications for a number of TPS recipients, including Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Another major group protected by TPS, meanwhile, are still waiting for the White House to decide their fate: the 57,000 Hondurans currently living in the United States.
This article has been updated to clarify the LDF as an organization separate from the NAACP.