Elaine Duke was up against a deadline to extend Temporary Protected Status for 50,000 Haitians in the US and was inclined to do so, after repeated renewals since a massive earthquake in 2010 and a subsequent cholera outbreak devastated Haiti.
But after John Kelly, then White House chief of staff, convened a meeting on November 3, 2017, Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary at the time, decided to end TPS for Haitians. Also at the meeting were Jeff Sessions, then attorney general, and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump.
That’s the scenario attorney Howard Roin sketched out for a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, in opening arguments of a trial over whether the Trump administration improperly ended the programme. Its decision thwarted the will of Congress and was “impermissibly infected by invidious discrimination on the basis of race and national origin,” according to a lawsuit filed in May and the first to go to trial of four pending complaints.
“The evidence will show that Attorney General Sessions leaned on Acting Secretary Duke to terminate TPS,” Roin told US District Judge William Kuntz, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Roin argued that the decision wasn’t based on sound reasoning that conditions had improved enough for Haitians to return, as the 1990 law creating TPS requires, but on the president’s “racial animus” towards people from places such as Haiti, El Salvador and African nations Trump has derided as “shithole countries,” according to news reports.
The White House has denied the reports, and in the government’s opening argument on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Joseph Marutollo disputed Roin’s scenario and claims of racial bias. He said Duke decided to terminate the program after conducting a “thorough and vigorous review.”