Report: Race, Migration-related Torture and Other Ill-treatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the US

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Amnesty International released a new report in September under the headline,  ‘They Did Not Treat Us Like People’: Race and Migration-Related Torture and Other Ill-Treatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the USA.

The report was published on the one-year anniversary of the events that took place in Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021, when the viscerally jarring and enraging images of Border Patrol officers on horseback attacking Haitian asylum seekers were captured. That, for many people across the world, were reminiscent of the photos of whip marks on the backs of the formerly enslaved.

“For most Black people anywhere in the world mass expulsions in shackles very much invokes images of what slave ships looked like. It taps into deepest levels of trauma and fear for Black people. Especially that not knowing part, which happens very abruptly and often happens before they can reach out to an attorney. The historical context and racism, and to see these things replicated over and over again… it is enraging.” – The UndocuBlack Network                

In the aftermath, the Biden administration committed to an investigation which should have been an opportunity for the Biden-Harris administration to – finally heed the call of Black immigrant communities and advocates who have continuously attempted to bring attention to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) use of force on Black immigrants and the psychological trauma of chaining the feet, waist, and wrists of Black people and transporting them from immigration cage to cage or deporting them back to dangerous conditions. But the published report by CBP in July 2022 concluded that none of the Haitians were intentionally struck by Border Patrol agents with their reins. The conclusion was drawn without any interview conducted with any of the Haitians present, significantly undermining its credibility. 

This research is based on interviews with 24 Haitians expelled by US authorities between September 2021 and January 2022. It is complemented by testimony from psychologists, academic experts, and lawyers, as well as historical evidence – including from Amnesty International’s archives – and information provided by US authorities.

The report has two main findings:

  • Firstly, mass or collective expulsions by the US authorities of Haitian asylum seekers under Title 42 are just a new chapter in a long history of detention, exclusion, and deterrence of Haitians seeking safety in the USA, rooted in systemic anti-Black discrimination.
  • Secondly, with the acquiescence of US authorities, the Haitians interviewed for this research – and possibly many others – have faced arbitrary detention, and in some cases torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (henceforth “ill-treatment”) related to race and migration, in violation of international human rights law which explicitly prohibits torture in all circumstances and requires states to actively prevent torture for groups most vulnerable to it. 

Worth to note is that between September 2021 and May 2022, the USA expelled more than 25,000 Haitians, making significant use of Title 42, an order implemented under the Trump administration and thinly disguised as a public health measure, which has always worked as an immigration and asylum deterrence policy, in express violation of national and international law. 

We urge the Biden administration to immediately stop expelling individuals and families under Title 42 and Create a White House participatory task force, with adequate resources and robust mandates, aimed at dismantling anti-Black racism in the immigration system, including the assessment of the disproportionate impact of facially race-neutral immigration laws on Black asylum seekers and the development of methodologies for assessing anti-Black racial discrimination in judicial decision-making. 

We also urge Congress to Establish a Congressional Commission of Inquiry into the treatment of Haitians in Del Rio, and other forms of anti-Black discrimination in the US asylum and immigration system, which will develop recommendations and long-term monitoring and remedies.

Pass legislation to end mandatory detention and the practice of expelling asylum seekers without access to individualized assessments of their claims and credible fear screenings. 

Read the full copy of the report here.

UndocuBlack “is a multigenerational network of currently and formerly undocumented Black people that fosters community, facilitates access to resources, and contributes to transforming the realities of our people, so we are thriving and living our fullest lives.”

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