By Vania Andre
Following disparaging remarks about Haiti and two immigration decisions that sent shockwaves across Haitian communities in the United States, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday in a Washington, D.C. court citing “discrimination on the basis of race and/or ethnicity” on the part of DHS. Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Costanzo Duke and current DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were also named individually in the lawsuit.
In November 2017, DHS announced Haitians with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) would have until July 22, 2019 to self deport or change their legal status. The decision was met with frustration and anger from the Haitian community and immigration advocates, who argued Haiti had not fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake and subsequent hurricanes. According to the Department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the designation is granted to nationals of a foreign country where their native country is “unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” TPS is typically granted to countries that are experiencing “ongoing armed conflict,” have experienced an “environmental disaster” such as an earthquake or hurricane, or an epidemic
Over the past eight years, Haiti has experienced two of the three eligibility requirements. In 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the small island nation, killing an estimated 300,000 people. That same year the country experienced a cholera outbreak. Roughly 10,000 Haitians have died from the outbreak and almost a million people have fallen ill since the disease was introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti affecting over 2 million people and causing millions of dollars in damage.
“President Trump has long made clear his antipathy towards Latin American and Black immigrants and his preference for white immigrants,” the NAACP said. There have been at least two reported instances where President Donald J. Trump has voiced his enmity for Haitians.
In June 2017, Trump reportedly said Haitians “all have AIDS,” and in January 2018, he referred to Haiti, El Salvador and other African countries as “shitholes” during meetings regarding immigration policies. During the January 2018 meeting, which took place a day before the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, Trump asked “Why do we need more Haitians?” and instructed that Haitian immigrants should not be included in any proposed immigration plan.
“President Trump’s racial bias against Haitian immigrants recalls America’s long, ignominious history of discrimination against Haiti, the world’s first Black republic,” the NAACP said.
“President Trump has made clear that he wishes to reduce the number of immigrants of color
to the United States. The rescission of Haiti’s TPS is part of that agenda. DHS’s decision to rescind Haiti’s TPS designation was infected with the intention to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
In November 2017, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighting the potentially negative impacts of rescinding TPS for Haitians.
“In Haiti, successive governments have made important strides towards reconstruction after the devastating 2010 earthquake. However, these efforts have faced setbacks, including the continuing cholera epidemic, a devastating hurricane in late 2016, and the two category five hurricanes – Irma and Maria – that struck in September of this year,” he wrote. “There are questions about the [government’s] capacity to repatriate tens of thousands of their citizens. A disorderly repatriation process could have implications for stability in each country and U.S. foreign policy objectives.”
Most recently the Trump administration announced Haitians would no longer be eligible for H-2A and H-2B visas, which is given to low-skilled workers citing “high levels of fraud and abuse” by Haitians.