Haitian Asylum Seekers Sue US Government for Racial Discrimination

A group of 11 Haitian asylum seekers are suing the Biden administration. They accuse the U.S. government with physical abuse, racial disparity and other rights violations after they were forced to shelter underneath a bridge in Del Rio. After images of Border Patrol agents whipping Haitian asylum seeker from horseback became viral in September, causing outrage from rights organizations. The plaintiffs in this case also demand that the U.S. government return thousands of Haitian asylum seekers who were deported from the Del Rio camp. Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, which filed the class-action lawsuit, says the Biden administration’s policies harm vulnerable people. “We believe that the lawsuit will force the administration to be accountable for what we continue to see as anti-Black racism within the immigration system,” she says. “Immigration is a Black issue. We cannot disconnect that from the reality after what we saw under the bridge in Del Rio.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

A group of 11 Haitian refugees has filed a class-action suit against the Biden government. They claim that the government committed physical and verbal abuses, racial disparity, denials of due process, and other serious rights violations. In September, they were forced into shelter under a bridge on the borderlands between Texas and Texas. U.S. Border Patrol officers on horseback whipped Haitian refugees as they waded across Rio Grande. One of the plaintiffs says she was, quote, “terrorized by officers on horseback.” As part of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are also demanding the U.S. government allow the return of the thousands of Haitian asylum seekers deported from the Del Rio encampment.

We’re joined right now by Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, which is part of the class-action suit. Guerline was recently awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Guerline, congratulations! Democracy Now! Can you talk about the —

GUERLINE JOZEF: Amy, thank you so very much. Thank you so much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you discuss the significance of this case?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Absolutely, Amy. Yes, Amy. We have seen the testimonies and reports from those who were abused, witnesses, and potential victims of what happened. This includes Mirard Joseph, the man we all saw in the picture of him being grabbed by an officer on horseback pushing and really abusing.

The whole lawsuit is in solidarity of those who came and asked for safety. It is the people that the administration has decided to make disappear by exiling and deporting them, as well as by silence and denying their voices. We felt it was important to hold the administration responsible.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Guerline says that the Biden administration has approved over 120 deportation flight, with approximately 14,000 Haitian-born migrants being deported. Are all of them being sent home to Haiti?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Yes, it is. This is a sad reality for our community. Nearly 11,000 people were seen under the bridge as of September. This includes the man in the picture. As you know, 120 flights have been sent from the United States to Haiti under President Biden. And this is even as the country continues to be under extreme political unrest. At the same time, the United States is putting a Level 4 — do not travel to Haiti — and asking U.S. citizens who are in Haiti to leave the country immediately, and then deporting asylum seekers, people who have come here simply in search of protection, sending them back to Haiti.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The administration also started a Remain in Mexico program to assist asylum seekers. How does the Mexican government deal with asylum seekers who are from Africa, Haiti, or other non-Spanish-speaking nations?

GUERLINE JOZEF: The government has expanded because of what they did MPP, Remain In Mexico, which we call the migrant persecution protocols. As of now, they have expanded the protocol to include everyone in the Western Hemisphere including people from Haiti and Jamaica.

What does this mean? They are currently in limbo for Haitians, as Title 42 is still in effect. They can expel them and deport them under Title 42 and then return them to Mexico. MPPYou can either leave them to it, or you can just let them know that they are unable to seek protection. They are very visible and vulnerable. That’s why we stand against Title 42, against MPP, and demand that the administration ensure that people have a safe and orderly means to seek asylum and protection.

So we are really pushing hard and standing by our plaintiffs, and with our brothers and sister in social security. We will hold President Biden and his entire administration responsible for what we all saw, the horrifying pictures and the horrifying videos we saw. They must be held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: This means that 11,000 Haitians have been deported to Haiti. But in other immigration news, the Biden administration has announced plans to allow 20,000 more immigrant workers into the U.S. temporarily via the H-2B visa program, because companies are saying that they don’t have enough workers. Sixty-five hundreds visas will be reserved for applicants from Guatemala and El Salvador. Can you talk about what’s going on here, deporting thousands and thousands, and then, what, will some of the people who have been deported be brought back up?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Absolutely not. Not under that program. That’s why we are asking for the administration to bring the people back, because at the same time, as you just mentioned, Amy, it doesn’t make sense. We also understand that it is very difficult for Haitians to access the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. So even if this program were in effect, how will people be able to access it? Why will they deport Haitians who come into the country, and then promise to provide visas for those seeking protection?

We call on all parties to be held responsible. We are making sure that all people have access the legal protections they need. We will continue to push for the protection of asylum seekers at U.S.-Mexico borders, regardless of their origins. However, we must also recognize that anti-Black racism is the root cause of the problems we are seeing. We want people to understand that immigration is a Black problem. After what we saw in Del Rio, it is impossible to separate that reality from the real thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Guerline Jozef, thank you for being co-founder and executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

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