A federal trial in New York challenging the Trump administration's decision to end Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for thousands of Haitians, concluded Thursday with internal government emails showing that the administration was so determined to end the program that it ignored its own government's research flagging health and safety concerns.
A decision in the case isn't expected until after March 1, the deadline given by Eastern District of New York federal judge William Kuntz to lawyers to file post-trial submissions.
Sejal Zota, legal director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, said while they tried to focus on telling a story during the trial that began on Monday, they will use the time given by Kuntz to submit additional evidence. During the trial, Zota's team and other lawyers serving as co-counsel in the suit argued that the termination of TPS for Haiti was based on President Donald Trump's "categorical and defamatory assertions about all Haitians, which the Haitian TPS recipients were given no opportunity to challenge."
"I'm definitely feeling good that our plaintiffs were able to have their day in court and ... tell the judge how they are going to be harmed if this TPS termination is upheld, and I think this was a very important opportunity for our plaintiffs to have," Zota said. "I realize that the government officials were not there but this trial is still about holding them accountable."
TPS was first given to Haiti by President Barack Obama after a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the country nine years ago Saturday on Jan. 12, 2010.
But as the Trump administration began rescinding the protection for Haiti and Central American nations, lawyers began filing suits. The New York lawsuit is the first of the five to go to trial.
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During the four days of testimony, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers did not call a single witness but instead relied on their cross-examination of the plaintiffs' witnesses to argue their point that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was within its discretion when it announced the end of TPS for Haiti in November 2017. The decision, they said, was based on lengthy consultations and DHS' conclusion that Haiti no longer met "the condition for designation."
The announcement of Haiti's termination by then-DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke came 14 days after the protection for 2,500 Nicaraguans was terminated after nearly 20 years. Four months later, Haitians out of New York and Florida, including the Family Action Network Movement in Miami (FANM), filed the class-action lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York.
Like the other suits representing Haitians as well as Salvadorans, Hondurans and Sudanese TPS holders, the New York suit argues that Duke violated procedures and TPS holders' due process. The decision, the suit alleges, was also rooted in the president's "racially discriminatory attitude toward all brown and black people."
During Thursday's closing arguments, attorney Howard Roin, one of several lawyers representing the plaintiffs, cited emails and other internal government documents, including Duke's handwritten November 2017 notes, to bolster 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.