Black-led immigrant rights advocating organizations UndocuBlack Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and African Communities Together filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint in the Southern District of New York requesting records from the U.S. government on the mistreatment of Haitian asylum seekers in Del Rio, TX last year.
As we recall, on Friday, September 24, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a press briefing: “Less than one week ago, there were approximately 15,000 migrants in Del Rio, Texas, the vast majority of whom were Haitian nationals. As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge.” The mass expulsion which Secretary Mayorkas spoke of as a feat was aided and abetted by whip-wielding Customs and Border Patrol officers on horseback driving and pushing back Black migrants fleeing imminent danger.
Of note, the mass expulsion and mass mistreatment of Haitian migrants happened hard on the heels of a string of disasters including a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that displaced thousands of Haitians, the impact of Tropical Storm Grace, which lashed the country three days after the earthquake and the unrest following the assassination of the president of Haiti, President Jovenel Moïse, and the danger posed by armed gangs. The Biden administration then proceeded to expel Haitians en masse back to danger—including pregnant mothers and infants as young as nine-days-old—totaling more than 25,000 Haitians since September 19, 2021.
A year after the original request into obtaining records on the abuse of Haitian Asylum seekers in Del Rio was submitted on October 1, 2021, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has produced a single document, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have produced nothing.
This lawsuit alleges that in September 2021, around 15,000 Haitian asylum seekers fleeing persecution arrived in Del Rio, Texas. Though the Biden administration knew of their pending arrival, it failed to prepare adequate resources to humanely receive these individuals and families exercising their legal right to seek safety. Instead, for two weeks, the administration subjected them to horrific conditions and racist abuse by CBP that included lack of food, water, urgent medical care, and verbal and physical assault.
The UndocuBlack Network, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and African Communities together with co-counsels Justice Action Center, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Innovation Law Lab urgently seek information on the federal government’s policies, directives, and actions relating to the treatment and processing of migrants in Del Rio in September 2021, and the unlawful expulsion of thousands of such migrants.
“Anti-Blackness is a core tenet of U.S. immigration policy,” said Haddy Gassama, National Director of Policy and Advocacy at the UndocuBlack Network. “Not only is this evidenced by the government’s abuse of Haitian asylum seekers in Del Rio, but also by its attempts to avoid accountability. For years, Black immigrant advocates have challenged the violent treatment of Black migrants; while the structures and systems that have enabled this cruelty to endure are not new, it is the responsibility of this current administration to rectify those harms. That begins with transparency, ending deterrence policies like Title 42 and ensuring protections are put in place for people seeking safety.”
“As we just marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. government’s abuse of Haitian asylum seekers in Del Rio, we are disappointed but not surprised that we have to litigate this FOIA request,” said Guerline Jozef, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Since last September, the Biden administration has skirted accountability at every turn: DHS conducted a sham investigation that focused on the mere 30-minute period captured on camera rather than the full two weeks that Haitians were subjected to abuse.
They also failed to interview a single Haitian victim or witness yet concluded that there was no use of excess force. We vehemently oppose these efforts at impunity and hope this FOIA litigation is a step towards the transparency and accountability that impacted Haitians deserve.”
“Since Del Rio, the Biden administration has expelled more than 25,000 Haitians and many more still face uncertainty and discrimination along the border,” said Diana Konaté, Policy Director at African Communities Together. “We file this lawsuit in solidarity with the thousands who were abused in Del Rio and who are still fighting for their fundamental, human right to seek safety. DHS’s blatantly one-sided investigation into Del Rio with its deliberate failure to interview a single Haitian migrant illustrates the urgency and necessity of this litigation to produce the documents we are entitled to under law.”
It is important to underline the fact that thousands of Haitians and other Black migrants from Ethiopia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (among others) were expelled from the United States unlawfully, without any of the procedural protections guaranteed by Congress, including the right to assert claims for asylum and related forms of humanitarian protection. In addition to the inhumane and unlawful expulsion of thousands of Haitian and other Black migrants, multiple reports have surfaced with records of disturbing civil rights violations, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers verbally and physically harassing migrants, preventing them from getting food or medical attention, and using horses and motorcycles to intimidate them.
Records, including policies, guidance, and correspondence, whether formal or informal, created since September 1, 2021, can and should be investigated so that any civil rights violations may be redressed and any perpetrators can be held accountable. There is also a lack of transparency regarding the number of migrants who were expelled and to where, and the number of migrants who were allowed to remain in the United States, and what has happened to them.