Haitian Asylum Seekers Sue US Government for Racial Discrimination

A group of 11 Haitian asylum seekers is suing the Biden administration, accusing the U.S. government of physical abuse, racial discrimination and other rights violations when they were forced to shelter under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. The class-action lawsuit comes after images of Border Patrol agents whipping Haitian asylum seekers from horseback went viral in September, drawing outrage from rights groups. The plaintiffs in the case are also demanding the U.S. government allow the return of the thousands of Haitian asylum seekers deported from the Del Rio encampment. 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.”

TRANSCRIPT

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

A group of 11 Haitian asylum seekers has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Biden administration, accusing the government of physical and verbal abuse, racial discrimination, denial of due process, and other severe rights violations while they were forced to take shelter under a bridge in the borderlands of Del Rio, Texas, in September. It was in Del Rio where U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback whipped Haitian asylum seekers as they waded across the 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 recently won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Congratulations, Guerline, and welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the —

GUERLINE JOZEF: Thank you so much, Amy. Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this lawsuit?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Absolutely, Amy. 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. We clearly understand from the testimonies and reports of the people who were abused, the witnesses and potential victims of what happened, including Mirard Joseph, who is the gentleman we all saw in that picture being grabbed by the officer on horseback, pushing and really abusing him.

So, the whole lawsuit is really in solidarity of the people who came and asked for safety, the people that the administration have decided to disappear by expelling and deporting them, by silencing their voices and their stories. So this is why we felt it was necessary to hold the administration accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Guerline, so far, the Biden administration has allowed over 120 deportation flights, with about 14,000 migrants of Haitian descent being deported. Are all of them being sent back to Haiti?

GUERLINE JOZEF: Absolutely, which is a painful reality for our community. As of September, the people we saw under the bridge, close to 11,000 of them have been deported and expelled, including the gentleman we saw on the picture. And under President Biden, as you mentioned, 120 flights have been sent to Haiti, even in the middle of the extreme uprising, as we have spoken about before, as we see the country continues to go 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: And the administration has also begun a new Remain in Mexico program for asylum seekers. How is the Mexican government dealing with those who are told to remain in Mexico, if they are from Africa or Haiti or non-Spanish-speaking countries?

GUERLINE JOZEF: What the government has done, they have expanded MPP, Remain in Mexico, which we really call the migrant persecution protocol. As of right now, they have expanded it to include everyone from the Western Hemisphere, including people from Haiti, Jamaica, Brazil.

And what does that do? For Haitians specifically, they are in limbo, because Title 42 is still in full effect. That means they can expel and deport them under Title 42, and then return them to Mexico under MPP, or just leave them to be unable to get protection, understanding that Black people in Mexico cannot hide. They are extremely vulnerable, extremely visible. That’s why we stand against Title 42, against MPP, and demand that the administration provide a safe and orderly way for people to get protection and ask for asylum.

So we are really pushing really hard and standing with our plaintiffs, with our brothers and sisters in social protection. And we will hold President Biden and the entire administration accountable for what we all witnessed, the horrific pictures, the horrific videos that we saw. They must be held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have 11,000 Haitians deported back 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 hundred of the visas will be set aside for applicants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti. 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. And we also understand that it is extremely impossible for people to even get access to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. So, even if that program was in effect, how will the people have access to the program? And why will they deport Haitians coming into the country and then say they will provide visas for people in search of protection?

So, we are calling on all of those to be held accountable. We are making sure that people have access to whatever protection that are afforded to them under the law. And we will continue to push to make sure that asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border are protected no matter where they are from, but also understanding that the anti-Black racism is at the root of what we are watching. And we want to make sure people understand that immigration is a Black issue. We cannot disconnect that from the reality, after what we saw under the bridge in Del Rio.

AMY GOODMAN: Guerline Jozef, we want to thank you for being with us, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

By the way, tune in to our holiday special on Friday when we speak to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges. Next week, we’ll bring you a 25th anniversary special, as well as an hour with Noam Chomsky, as part of our year-end conversations.

That does it for today’s show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick.

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