BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A group of Haitian nationals from Florida and New York, a Brooklyn-based Haitian newspaper and several advocacy groups sued President Donald Trump – who just two months ago called their home country a “shithole” – and the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday to keep the government from rescinding their temporary U.S. residency permits.
Trump has denied he made the “shithole” comment. But the Haitians’ complaint says when the president learned 15,000 Haitians received U.S. visas in 2017, he said they “all have AIDS.”
Quoting these supposed remarks, plaintiffs from the earthquake-weary nation claimed the Trump administration’s decision to nix their temporary protected status (TPS) and open the door to their deportation is “racially motivated” rather than based on U.S. immigration law and court-ordered injunction to pause the rollback.
Following in the footsteps of similarly situated plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in San Francisco earlier this week, Wednesday’s plaintiffs said their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process is violated by the abrupt halt of TPS. They say they’re not challenging the rescission itself but rather the process by which the Trump administration makes such decisions.
“On Jan. 12, 2010, the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere struck Haiti – the nation least prepared to handle one,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint, filed by Miami-based civil rights and immigration lawyer Ira J. Kurzban in the Eastern District of New York.
The quake caused $7.8 billion in damages in a country with a gross domestic product of just $6.6 billion.
After the quake, the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration granted Haitians temporary protected status in the U.S. based on the “extraordinary” conditions that made life in Haiti unsafe – lack of food and water, shattered infrastructure – conditions which, according to the complaint, continue eight years later.
The death toll from the 7.1-magnitude quake is debated, but estimated to be between 220,000 and over 300,000. Foreign aid caused additional nightmares for the Haitian people when U.N. peacekeepers sent for support did not properly dispose of their human waste, setting off a devastating cholera epidemic that has killed at least 9,000 people since 2010.
The initial TPS was effective until 2011, according to the complaint, but was extended another 18 months to January 2013 in part due to the cholera outbreak. Extensions were granted several more times with the last to expire July 22, 2019.
When Trump took office in January 2017, he immediately began tightening U.S. immigration restrictions. In November of that year, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke terminated TPS for Haitians. In January 2018, TPS for Salvadorans in the U.S. met a similar fate.
The plaintiffs say the president is “well-known for his animus toward racial minorities and certain groups of immigrants.”
The administration’s Haiti TPS rollback asserted that the “extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist.”
But Haiti had as recently as 2016 earned its TPS status for myriad crises, according to the plaintiffs, who say the administration failed to explain how Haiti had overcome those hurdles so quickly.
Haïti Liberté, a Brooklyn-based weekly Haitian newspaper and one of the plaintiffs in the case, says that without TPS it will lose of its most valuable and prolific writers to deportation, which would be a blow to its sales.
Plaintiff Patrick Saget has cerebral palsy, lost his caretaker in the earthquake and now depends on his brother in the U.S. He contends that if he is deported, there will be no one to care for him. The plaintiffs say 50,000 Haitian nationals and their 27,000 U.S. citizen children stand to lose from TPS termination.
Other TPS suits have been filed in recent months by both Haitians and Salvadorans in Boston and Maryland.
“[President Trump] has expressed in blunt terms his desire to prevent Haitians from remaining in the United States,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint. “Because he believes that Haitians ‘all have AIDS’ and that they come from ‘shithole countries,’ he has directed that they should be ‘take[n]..out’ of any consideration of TPS. His administration’s rescission of Haiti’s TPS is part of his irrational and discriminatory agenda.”
No one from attorney Kurzban’s office, the Department of Homeland Security or Haïti Liberté returned calls for comment Thursday afternoon.