Plaintiffs and Co-Counsel in HBA v. Biden Demand Answers as Title 42 Continues
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2022
DEL RIO, TEXAS—More than nine months ago, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared that an investigation into the horrific abuse of Haitian asylum seekers by CBP agents on horseback in Del Rio, TX would be “completed in days—not weeks.” Instead of a swift and fair investigation, the Office of the Inspector General declined to investigate, and right wing news outlets are now reporting that agents have been cleared of any wrongdoing, casting doubt on what they’re referring to as a “whipping hoax”. Meanwhile, appalling merchandise celebrating this abuse, including an unofficial CBP challenge coin, is being sold online.
Alleging physical abuse, racial discrimination, denial of basic necessities and medical treatment, and a complete failure to process asylum claims, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Justice Action Center, and Innovation Law Lab filed filed Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden last December. The federal class action lawsuit was brought on behalf of Haitian Bridge Alliance and 11 individual Haitian plaintiffs who represent the class of the 15,000 Haitians asylum seekers who were held under abusive conditions in an encampment in Del Rio, TX in mid-September, 2021. The suit alleges the U.S. government violated Haitian asylum seekers’ statutory and constitutional rights when they were held in the Del Rio encampment and subsequently expelled back to danger in Haiti and Mexico. The Biden Administration filed a motion to dismiss the case on June 11, 2022.
Plaintiffs seek not only accountability for the government’s racist abuse in Del Rio, but also the return of the thousands of Haitians expelled by the Biden administration from the Del Rio encampment since September, so they may pursue their asylum claims in the United States. The lawsuit also challenges the unlawfulness of the Title 42 policy, which continues to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of asylum seekers. Among the individual plaintiffs are Michael Celon and Veronique Cassonel, who survived sleeping on the ground in Del Rio with very little access to food and water before being cruelly expelled to Haiti in shackles with their children, as well as Mirard Joseph, captured being whipped by a CBP officer on horseback in a horrific photo captured by photojournalist Paul Ratje.
Currently, under the cruel and unlawful Title 42 program—which uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to close the border to people seeking safety and whose wind-down was blocked on May 20 by Judge Summerhays, a Trump-appointed judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana—people fleeing for their lives are unable to seek asylum, despite it being a statutory and a human right. Since President Biden took office, his Administration has expelled more than 26,000 Haitians back to danger, mostly under Title 42. In stark contrast, more than 26,000 Ukrainians were exempted from expulsion and processed into the U.S. at the border in March and April 2022 alone, sometimes totaling more than 750 people in a single day, illustrating how Title 42 is rooted in racism rather than public health.
“Haiti is the only country to where expulsion flights are even happening on weekends, and those flights are sending our most vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and infants as young as nine-days-old, back to violence and political instability,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “As the complaint in Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden details in what it terms the ‘Haitian Deterrence Policy,’ the United States has a long history of discriminating against Haitian migrants, and the Biden Administration’s actions today, including inaction on the DHS investigation, are rooted in this legacy of racism and xenophobia. If the United States can mobilize quickly to welcome thousands of Ukrainians fleeing danger, we can and must do it for all people seeking safety.”