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A year after border crisis, Haitian asylum seekers face discriminatory treatment, report says

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Haitians crossing the southern border of the United States without proper documentation are being subjected to arbitrary detention and discriminatory and humiliating ill treatment that amounts to race-based torture, Amnesty International says in a new report marking the first anniversary of the migration crisis at the U.S. border in Del Rio, Texas.

A year ago this month, nearly 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, set up encampments underneath an international bridge connecting the southern Texas town of Del Rio and the Mexican city of Ciudad Acuña. The convergence of the migrants attracted world-wide attention and raised questions about the Biden administration’s immigration policies as it responded by ramping up expulsions to Haiti.

Data by the United Nations International Organization for Migration show that since Sept. 19, 2021, more than 20,000 Haitian asylum seekers have been expelled to Haiti on more than 200 charter flights from the U.S. under the Trump-era public health law known as Title 42.

On Monday, immigration advocates and human rights organizations are gathering across from the White House in Lafayette Park to remember Del Rio demanded an end to Title 42.

“We cannot in good conscience continue the same system that was put in place by the previous government,” Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said in her remarks. “When running for president, Joe Biden said his goal was to restore the soul of America. What we saw under the bridge in September in Del Rio was not restoring the soul of America, it was condemning the soul of America.”

Democratic Florida representatives Frederica Wilson and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick sent a letter to President Biden and Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week requesting a moratorium on deportations to Haiti, and an extension and re-designation of Temporary Protected Status, which allows migrants to live and work legally in the United States on a temporary basis.

 

A study by the Migration Policy Institute shows that while thousands of Haitians have been returned to Haiti by the Biden administration, thousands have been allowed in. Advocates, however, contend that those stays haven’t been long enough to provide a chance to apply for asylum, and many people find themselves back in Haiti after just a few months in the U.S.

Its findings, Amnesty International says, “point to the urgent need for an investigation into systematic anti-Black racism within the immigration system, including a review of its policies.”

The report is based on interviews with 24 Haitian asylum seekers who were in U.S. immigration custody before being expelled to Haiti. Among what the Haitians reported: They had no access to lawyers or interpreters while in custody, and none were given credible-fear screenings to determine the risk they might face upon return to Haiti, which suggested they were being held and expelled under Title 42.

Despite this rationale for holding asylum seekers and quickly sending them back to their home country, none were screened for COVID-19 or offered a vaccine before they were flown to Haiti in shackles and handcuffs — restraints that are tantamount to race- and migrant-related torture under international human-rights law, Amnesty International said.

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