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Haitian-Migrant

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop Haitian migrant Mirard Joseph—a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government—from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuña-Del Rio International Bridge in Texas on September 19, 2021. (Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal Class-Action Suit Filed Over Haitian Migrants 'Abused and Dehumanized' at US Border

"With this lawsuit, we say no to white supremacy in the immigration system. We say no to the violence, the discrimination, the expulsion, and the cruelty."

Brett Wilkins

A group of Haitian asylum-seekers and their advocates on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit against President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and numerous U.S. agencies and officials alleging physical abuse, racism, unlawful expulsion, and other "inhumane" mistreatment at the hands of immigration authorities.

"By deporting me and other asylum-seekers, President Biden has condemned us to death."

The federal lawsuit, which was filed by the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance and Innovation Law Lab on behalf of 11 asylum-seekers, alleges that U.S. government violated the plaintiffs' statutory and constitutional rights during their detention at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encampment in the border city of Del Rio, Texas in September 2021.

"I'm struck that a country I believe could provide safety and protection for me would absolutely humiliate me and others this way," said plaintiff 'Paul Doe.' "By deporting me and other asylum-seekers, President Biden has condemned us to death."

The lawsuit takes aim at Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act first invoked by the Trump administration as the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020 that has been continued—and extended—by the Biden administration, which has deported hundreds of thousands of migrants under the law.

The suit calls Biden's embrace of Title 42 "consistent with the United States' long history of anti-Haitian and anti-Black immigration policies," as "racism and white supremacy motivated the earliest U.S. immigration policies and have continued to shape immigration laws through the present."

"U.S. officials' abuse of Haitians... did not stop with the Title 42 process," the lawsuit asserts. "Despite President Biden's promises to restore dignity and compassion to the U.S. asylum system, senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials developed a 'Haitian Deterrence Policy' to apply the Title 42 process in a way that subjected Haitian asylum-seekers in Del Rio to deplorable conditions while in government custody, was deliberately indifferent to humanitarian concerns, and focused on expelling Haitian asylum-seekers as quickly as possible."

Plaintiffs Mirard Joseph and Madeleine Prospere and their one-year-old daughter arrived in Del Rio in September to legally seek asylum. According to the lawsuit, the family experienced "extreme hunger" because the CBP encampment where they were held provided insufficient food. Joseph said he was forced to cross the Rio Grande River back into Cuidad Acuña, Mexico to purchase food.

The suit states that as he was returning to the camp, "U.S.officials on horseback chased and lashed Mirard, and tried to force him back to Mexico."

Photos of a mounted U.S. Border Patrol agent wielding his reins like a whip against Mirard sparked worldwide outrage and condemnation, including from Biden, who vowed that "people will pay" for the incident. Several plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they "saw officers on horseback using reins as whips against people in the river."

Days later, Mirard, Prospere, and their daughter were taken to a detention facility. According to the lawsuit, the adults "were shackled and—without being told where they were going—expelled with their young child to Haiti. They never received an opportunity to seek asylum or explain why they feared returning to Haiti... Madeleine has been forced to separate from their family to take their young daughter to Chile for medical care that was unavailable in Haiti for the illnesses she developed in the CBP encampment. They plan to return to the United States to seek asylum."

"Instead of providing asylum-seekers and refugees the legal protection afforded under the law, the U.S. government treated them with contempt, anti-Black prejudice, and summarily expelled them."

Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, said in a statement that "the stories I heard coming out of the Del Rio encampment will forever haunt me: mothers with newborns denied basic necessities such as shelter and medical care, children being fed nothing or only bread, and outright derision and discrimination from U.S. authorities."

"The world watched as Black asylum-seekers were abused and dehumanized by men on horseback," she continued. "As a Black Haitian-American woman descendant of enslaved people in the Americas, I cannot disconnect this treatment of Black bodies in Del Rio from the historical treatment of Black bodies in the United States."

"Instead of providing asylum-seekers and refugees the legal protection afforded under the law, the U.S. government treated them with contempt, anti-Black prejudice, and summarily expelled them without any due process after they suffered and bore witness to CBP abuse in Del Rio," Jozef added. "Immigration is a Black issue."

Tess Hellgren, deputy legal director of Innovation Law Lab, said that "the U.S. immigration system has punished Black migrants and the people of Haiti time and time again. With this lawsuit, we say no to white supremacy in the immigration system. We say no to the violence, the discrimination, the expulsion, and the cruelty. We stand with Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Haitian people harmed by U.S. immigration enforcement."


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