Human Rights

Federal class action lawsuit filed over treatment of Haitian migrants

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A group of Haitian migrants filed a federal class action lawsuit against the U.S. government on Monday after their experience at the border in Del Rio, Texas, which included interactions with Border Patrol agents on horseback shown in now infamous photos. 

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, included a statement from one of the plaintiffs, Mirard Joseph, who said he was “lashed at” by a Border Patrol agent on horseback.

The photo of Joseph’s experience was documented in a photo that was the subject of much criticism, including from President Biden. 

“To see people treated like they did, horses barely running them over and people being strapped. It was outrageous,” Biden said at the time. “I promise those people will pay.” 

Joseph, who was the man in the center of the widely circulated photo, referred to the encounter as “the most humiliating experience of my life.”

“The second most humiliating moment was when they handcuffed and chained me to go back to Haiti,” he added, per the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit specifically accuses the Biden administration of failing to prepare for the influx of migrants despite being aware of the immigrants’ imminent arrival. It also says that the government was responsible for physical and verbal abuse of the migrants as well as failure to provide due process because of COVID-19 policies including Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of people for public health reasons.

Several immigrant advocacy groups including Justice Action Center, Haitian Bridge Alliance and Innovation Law Lab are representing the 11 Haitian asylum seekers named in the case.

“The stories I heard coming out of the Del Rio encampment will forever haunt me: mothers with newborns denied basic necessities such as shelter and medical care, children being fed nothing or only bread, and outright derision and discrimination from U.S. authorities,” Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, said in a joint statement from the organizations.

Earlier this year, an estimated 15,000 Haitian migrants who had gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge, many of whom were Haitian and were returned to their home country on controversial repatriation flights.

As the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates the Border Patrol’s treatment of the migrants, the plaintiffs’ statements in the complaint could become part of that ongoing investigation no matter the outcome of the lawsuit. 

The Hill has reached out to DHS for comment. 

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