By Naeisha Rose
Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, was the last live witness for the plaintiffs in the Saget et al v Trump case that was called to the stand Wednesday as an expert on conditions on the Caribbean island.
His testimony will help determine if approximately 50,000 Haitian immigrants will get to keep their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to work and live in the United States, or if they will get deported back to Haiti under President Donald Trump’s motion to terminate the designation for the recipients of the program.
Concannon has visited and lived on the island since the early 1990s and has knowledge of what Haiti was like before and after the 2010 earthquake, according to the executive director at the Eastern District of New York Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn on Jan. 9.
Nationals from countries other than the U.S. can get TPS if they are trying to escape issues related to war, political strife, extraordinary circumstances or a natural disaster.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, resulting in many nationals from the island living and working in the U.S.
Throughout the trial, lawyers for Trump and the plaintiffs questioned Concannon on his expertise on Haiti to argue their case either for the dismissal or extension of TPS, which is slated to expire on July 22.
“I lived in Haiti for nine years and [have] never seen anyone in tents until 2010,” according to Concannon. “There are approximately 200,000 people in precarious settlements made of tarp.”
During his testimony, Concannon mentioned that when he went back to Haiti after the earthquake destroyed many parts of it, individuals impacted by the natural disaster created a settlement in Canaan, an uninhabitable terrain that Haitians had previously ignored.
“Canaan is dusty, windy and on a hillside,” said Concannon. “It is prone to flooding…lacks electricity, and the first road there was just built.”
Throughout the trial, Concannon also testified about Haiti’s weak police force, infrastructure, government and public health system as reasons for TPS extension.
Lawyers for Trump argued that a housing crisis existed in Haiti in 2009, therefore any housing or other “chronic” problems currently on the island existed prior to the TPS designation, however, Concannon pointed out that when Haitians tried to settle on hillsides like Canaan in the past they lived in actual homes, not tents made of plywood or tarps.
Trump’s lawyers continued to pick apart Concannon’s statements by pointing out that Haiti always had a short-staffed police department, which was improved by United Nations peacekeepers after the earthquake.
Trump’s lawyer pointed out that the country has faced several instances of political strife before 2010, but has since had an election in 2016.
The president’s lawyers also said the cholera epidemic that struck Haiti 10 months after the earthquake is trending downwards.
While Concannon agreed to many of the assertions, he expanded on the details that were missing from those claims.
For instance, of the estimated 2 million people that contracted cholera, which has since dropped down to approximately 38,000, approximately 10,000 of those individuals had died from the disease and those that lived only survived because they eventually developed immunity, according to Concannon. He also argued that it was unsafe to put new arrivals in jeopardy until there was a better sanitation infrastructure on the island.
When it came to elections, Concannon found the last election to have a poor voter turnout.
“In the past, the voter turnout in Haiti has been better than all of Latin America,” said Concannon. “That 2016 election only had a 20 percent voter turnout, and 10 percent of those were patronage.”
When it comes to the current police force, there are approximately 14,000 people in the unit, according to Concannon.
“The police never reached the level it was supposed to be,” according to the executive director. “A police force around 20,000 is considered adequate internationally.”
After Concannon expounded on the claims made by Trump’s attorneys, they tried to question his credentials as an expert on conditions in Haiti and establish that he was biased against the president.
“Do you have a Ph. D. on Haiti in terms of economics…international relations…sociology…anthropology or nutrition?” asked one of Trump’s lawyers to Concannon.
While the Juris Doctor did not have a Ph. D. in any of those subjects, he did have experience with some aspects of economics and nutrition.
Concannon’s anti-Trump social media posts and connection to Ira Kurzban, the attorney for the plaintiffs is on the board of directors of IJDH.
As a board member of IJDH, Kurzban has voting power that could determine if Concannon should get a raise in his role as the executive director of the Haitian human rights organization.
Day three of the trial came to a close with the lawyers for the plaintiffs motioning to introduce depositions from other experts on Haiti.
The trial will resume on Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. at 225 Cadman Plaza E.