Trump’s Haiti, El Salvador Moves ‘Racist,’ Groups Say

By Laura D. Francis

Ending temporary protected status for nationals of Haiti and El Salvador was racially discriminatory, two more organizations claim.

A lawsuit filed Feb. 22 is the second to accuse the Trump administration of race bias when it announced an end to TPS for nationals of the two countries, who have been living and working in the U.S. for years. A January lawsuit from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also accuses the administration of discrimination in the decision to end TPS for Haiti.

Both cases focus on President Donald Trump’s reported comment that Haiti and African nations are “shithole countries.”

The Feb. 22 lawsuit, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Centro Presente, also references Trump’s comments on the campaign trail that equate Hispanic immigrants with rapists.

Some 242,900 Salvadorans and 93,500 Haitians with TPS are living in the U.S.

Policies ‘Infected’ by Racism

The president’s “racist and xenophobic sentiments” have “clearly infected the Trump administration’s policy making since day one,” Oren Nimni, a Lawyers’ Committee attorney working on the lawsuit, said during a Feb. 22 press call. It’s true that TPS is supposed to be temporary, but it’s also true that the government can’t make decisions that are grounded in discrimination, he said.

“It would be hard to find a federal court to hold that the president of the United States is a racist and strike down his decisions on that basis,” Christopher Hajec, director of litigation for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 22.

Even if all the facts in the complaint are taken as true, it’s “speculative” that Trump’s “frank comments” somehow mean that acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke and current DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were acting with racial animus, he said.

IRLI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower immigration levels.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” Tyler Houlton, acting press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 22. The DHS administers TPS and issued the termination decisions.

Representatives for the White House didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Inconsistent With Prior Decisions

But it’s not just the president’s statements that the lawsuit targets.

The Department of Homeland Security went against long-standing decision making in both Republican and Democratic administrations when it ended TPS for the two countries, the complaint says. The DHS’s conclusions about the situation in Haiti and El Salvador also belie reports from other government agencies, it says.

The inconsistencies, coupled with the president’s comments, suggest that racial bias was the real motivating factor, in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses, according to the complaint.

“I don’t know how much” the Trump administration actually deviated from prior TPS decisions, Hajec said. It’s plausible that the effects of an earthquake that happened in 2010—in Haiti’s case—and 2001—in El Salvador’s case—have “died down,” he said.

Salvadorans and Haitians “might have been given a false sense by previous administrations” that their status would last forever, Hajec said. But because the situation may be “tough” on TPS recipients doesn’t mean you can “transform a temporary program into a permanent one,” he said.

The case is Centro Presente v. Trump, D. Mass., No. 1:18-cv-10340, complaint filed 2/22/18.