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EDITORIAL

Taking Trump’s words to court

Evan Vucci/AP

On Feb 23, President Trump expressed frustration about immigration policies to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Before losing a challenge against President Trump’s revised travel ban last spring at a US District Court in Hawaii, the US Department of Justice asked Judge Derrick Watson to consider only the text of the executive order and its stated national security purposes, and to disregard all other evidence — namely, the president’s repeated anti-Muslim comments and tweets that potentially could prove that religious animus motivated the policy.

Watson said, in effect, no way. “The Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has,” he wrote.

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As the travel ban, in its third iteration, makes its way to the Supreme Court, a different legal challenge based on Trump’s own words has emerged. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice sued the Trump administration last Thursday, citing the president’s own statements to allege that the government’s decision to terminate a humanitarian program that allowed some Haitians and Salvadorans to live in the United States constitutes racial discrimination against people of color.

Indeed, as Watson succinctly put it, it goes against common sense and logic to ignore what the president has said about certain groups of immigrants. The Lawyers’ Committee argues in the lawsuit that a government policy rooted in bias and discrimination violates the plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

“We’re taking the president’s statements to court,” said Oren Sellstrom, the group’s litigation director.

And there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to Trump’s disparaging comments. In particular, it’s his reported statements about Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries” and his comment that all Haitians “have AIDS,” when discussing the fate of the Temporary Protected Status program, that are legally problematic.

“The Supreme Court has laid out what the standards are to be able to show discriminatory intent from the government, and that includes comments and statements made by officials,” Sellstrom said.

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What’s so jaw-dropping about this case, as in the case of the travel ban, is the identity of the official: the president of the United States.

Within the next 17 to 19 months, immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status, including 11,000 in Massachusetts, must leave the country or face deportation. Trump’s decision to terminate the humanitarian program for those countries went against previous administrations’ assessments of the extraordinary conditions, like extreme poverty and rampant violence, which both nations continue to face, according to Trump’s own State Department.

If the president overtly voices racist views — and it should be noted that the president made those disparaging statements about Haitians and Salvadorans in the context of discussing immigration policy — the courts should take his words at face value. Any federal official who displays racial bias in decision-making should expect to be judged accordingly — and it would be bizarre indeed to hold the president to a lower standard than other officials.