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New York federal judge blocks Trump administration from ending TPS for Haitians

Accusing the Trump administration of being motivated by politics and not facts, a second U.S. federal judge is blocking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from forcing tens of thousands of Haitians to return to Haiti by ending their temporary legal protection.

In a 145-page federal ruling, U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz of the Eastern District of New York issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing DHS from terminating Temporary Protected Status, TPS, for Haitians. Kuntz said 50,000 to 60,000 Haitians and their U.S.-born children would suffer “irreparable harm” if the legal protection ended and they were forced to return to a country that is not safe.

Kuntz’s detailed ruling came out of a lawsuit filed by Haitians in Florida and New York, challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS granted to Haiti by the Obama administration after its 2010 devastating earthquake. The administration has rescinded the protection for Central America and some African nations as well, sparking several lawsuits around the country.

“It’s a sweeping indictment of the political manner in which the Trump administration at the very highest levels of the government illegally terminated Protected Status for Haitians,” said Miami immigration attorney Ira Kurzban, one of several lawyers who filed the lawsuit.

In October, a federal judge in California granted a temporary injunction blocking the administration from deporting Haitian TPS holders and others as their termination deadlines approach. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen granted the temporary injunction as part of a California lawsuit filed by lawyers on behalf of TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan who have U.S.-born children. The decision is being appealed by the government.

Kurzban noted that unlike the California case, which had not yet gone to trial when Chen issued his decision, Kuntz’s decision is the result of a full-blown trial. The New York lawsuit was the first of the five to go to trial.

“It’s far more detailed in its reasoning in respect to why what the government did was completely illegal,” Kurzban said of Kuntz’s decision. “It found findings on discrimination. ... It found very clearly that the government’s decision was not only an arbitrary decision, but they violated their own procedures in reaching the conclusion that they reached.

“This is a direct and very detailed account of how the government acted in a completely arbitrary way,” he added.

During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that then-Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke violated procedures and TPS holders’ due process when she ended the program for Haiti. They also cited emails and other internal government documents, including Duke’s handwritten November 2017 notes, to bolster the plaintiffs’ argument: that the White House was not interested in the facts about conditions in Haiti as DHS officials mulled over whether to continue to shield up to 60,000 Haitians from deportations, and Duke was under repeated pressure to terminate the program.

The decision, the suit alleged, was also rooted in the president’s “racially discriminatory attitude toward all brown and black people.” “Clearly political motivations influenced Secretary Duke’s decision to terminate TPS for Haiti,” Kuntz said in his findings. “A TPS termination should not be a political decision made to carry out political motivations. Ultimately, the potential political ramifications should not have factored into the decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS.”

Kuntz said he could not issue a final injunction, only a temporary one, because Haiti’s TPS designation, which was supposed to end on July 22 but was recently extended by DHS until January 2020 due to the legal challenges, has not yet expired.

Steve Forester, an immigration advocate who has been championing the rights of Haitians enrolled in the TPS program, said it was “a victory demonstrating the government’s unlawful and unconstitutional behavior in reaching its decision to terminate Haiti TPS.”

“It’s a resounding condemnation of unlawful government behavior,” added Forester, who works as policy coordinator for the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

The government is expected to appeal.

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