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By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. Oct. 19, 2021: Forty-eight individuals who fled life-threatening conditions in Haiti and who survived alleged mistreatment under the custody of federal officials at the U.S. border have joined with a Haitian American organization to file an official complaint against the U.S. government.

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed the complaint Monday on behalf of the 48, as well as the Haitian Americans United (HAU), and its members.

The complaint outlines alarming facts about the lived experiences of Black Haitian families under DHS custody at the border including that:

Families were detained in overcrowded conditions that threatened their health and wellbeing, particularly in light of COVID-19. 

Families were denied access to medical care and treatment. Even pregnant women and children experiencing illness were deprived of medical assistance. This led to at least one miscarriage.

While confined in an outdoor “camp” — under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas — families were denied access to food, water, hygiene products, sanitation and protection from the elements. Families were deprived of blankets — or any protection from the ground — at the makeshift “camp.” 

Even after being transferred by DHS from the “camp” to detention facilities, many families — including those with infant children — were deprived of adequate food and water. They were given only apples or a slice of bread to share for days. Over the course of multiple days in detention facilities, families had no access to showers, hygiene products, blankets, or beds. Many slept without any covers on concrete floors.

Families were also denied access to Haitian Creole translators or interpreters. 

“The federal government confined Black families fleeing from Haiti in inhumane and life-threatening conditions for an unnecessarily and excessively long period of time. These families came to the U.S. to seek safety, but instead were met with further despair,” said Arielle Sharma, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

“Visceral anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments explain the gross miscarriage of justice experienced by Black Haitian families at the border at the hands of federal officials. As our country experiences a racial justice reckoning, we must recognize that Black immigrants matter too,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. 

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of Haitians at the border. People are fleeing Haiti seeking our protection. They do not deserve our punishment,” said Reverend Dieufort Fleurissaint of Haitian-Americans United.

“In Boston, non-profit organizations have been overwhelmed helping Haitian families recently released from the border. They are traumatized. They need food, shelter, medical assistance, and humanitarian parole. We need the federal government to support them and treat them humanely,” added Dr. Geralde Gabeau, the Executive Director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute. 

“The federal government utterly failed, injured and harmed the Black families fleeing from Haiti who arrived at the U.S. border in search of safety and human dignity,” said Sara Wilson, Civil Rights Fellow at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “This is unacceptable. The federal government must act expeditiously to end these harrowing conditions at the border.”

LCR is demanding an immediate investigation “into the heinous actions perpetrated by federal officials at the border” on behalf of its clients.  

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the agency’s Inspector General.  The complaint also asks the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the agency’s Inspector General to issue a report detailing all the factual findings from the requested investigation concerning the mistreatment of Black Haitian families at the border and asks DHS to make the report available to Congress and the American public.

Haitian families were confined by DHS for up to 10 days under the bridge near Del Rio, Texas. Once transferred to detention facilities, Haitian families were confined for up to 49 days before being released.

In light of DHS’s systemic abuse, the LCR complaint for HAU demands:

An immediate DHS and Inspector General investigation into how racial animus and national origin discrimination produced the unlawful detention conditions at the border. It also calls for the investigation to include a racial audit and an assessment of how long white immigrants are detained by DHS before they are released, compared with Black immigrants.

Policy changes to ensure that Black immigrants from Haiti are treated in a lawful manner. This includes a specific timeline for improved access to food, shelter, medical care, and hygiene along with the immediate reduction of overcrowded conditions that place families at imminent risk of life-threatening COVID-19 infection, illness, and death.

They also want the DHS to ensure that Haitian Creole translators and interpreters are available to effectively communicate with people arriving at the border.

Mandatory anti-bias training for border agents to address the anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments that are exacerbating the Haitian refugee crisis at the border.

Immediate testing for COVID-19 and vaccine access for immigrants.

An end to prolonged detention, including a commitment to release immigrants from DHS custody within 72 hours.

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