A lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn aims to block the termination of Temporary Protected Status shielding Haitians from deportation, arguing that the federal government was “arbitrary and capricious” in its decision to end the program and was motivated by President Donald Trump’s “racial and national origin animus toward Haitians.”
The suit cites demeaning remarks attributed to Trump in media reports in which he spoke ill of some immigrant groups, categorized their countries as worthless places and expressed his desire to decrease Haitian immigration.
The administration announced in November that it had decided to terminate Haitians’ designation under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, because conditions in Haiti had improved. The program exempts from deportation people from countries in turmoil due to war, natural disasters and other extraordinary conditions.
Haitians were first granted TPS in January 2010, after a powerful earthquake devastated their country. The more than 58,000 Haitians in the program are expected to leave the United States by July 22, 2019.
“Trump has been blunt in his desire to reduce black and brown immigrants in the U.S.,” said Sejal Zota, an attorney with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, a Boston-based nonprofit involved in the suit. “As part of that agenda, he terminated TPS, but he terminated TPS using an invalid and unauthorized process” instead of following “very specific statutory criteria” laid down by Congress.
The suit names Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its chief officials as defendants. A department spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Among plaintiffs is Jean Claude Mompoint, a Haitian immigrant living in Valley Stream. Others are Haïti Liberté, a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn, the nonprofit Family Action Network Movement that serves Haitians in Miami, and eight other TPS recipients in New York and Florida.
“In Haiti, we are not stable” to go back, said Mompoint, 59, a maintenance worker. “We have a lot of problems, we don’t really have jobs over there, and the people when they come here they try to get something to survive and help their families.”
Naïscha Vilme, 21, a Brooklyn resident and plaintiff, hopes to enroll in graduate school if the program is extended, she said. She obtained her bachelor’s degrees in psychology and math while on TPS.
Losing that protection, Vilme said, “would just put an end to the lives we have built here” and send many back to a country where jobs are scarce and “people there are suffering a lot.”