Diaspora

Haitian Families In Massachusetts File Complaint Against Biden Administration Over Border Camps – wgbh.org

Two dozen Haitian families living in Massachusetts filed a civil rights complaint Monday against the Biden administration, demanding an investigation into inhumane conditions they faced while they were detained at the border.
Haitian-Americans United, a Boston-based nonprofit that has been working around the clock to help many of the 150 families recently transferred to the state, filed the complaint on their behalf with the help of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR).
“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.
The letter, addressed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, says many of the immigrants were illegally held at a “squalid outdoor camp” under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, and that the federal government discriminated against them based on their race and national origin. That camp was the centerpiece of debate in September when thousands of immigrants, including many Haitians, waited to be processed by border agents.
In one harrowing description, LCR described how one woman, Marjory, and her husband, Frantz, told DHS officials that she was pregnant. When they were detained separately, Marjory says she asked for medical assistance and was ignored. Days later, she suffered the miscarriage of her first child.
Frantz wasn’t able to contact Marjory during her ordeal.
Another woman also now in Massachusetts, Marie, was in her second trimester when she sought asylum at the border and had her medications discarded by the Department of Homeland Security without a plan for replacement.
“Despite requesting medical care, she was denied any medical attention. Instead, the pregnant mother was detained for 4 days and forced to sleep on the concrete floor of an overcrowded cell without sufficient food or water,” reads the complaint.
Department of Homeland security officials did not reply to requests for comment.
The letter seeks an investigation and racial audit to “identify how anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments infect DHS practices and procedures, especially in connection with apprehension and detention of Black immigrants at the border.”
The groups also want improved access to medical care and shelter for Haitian families, and Haitian Creole interpreters at the border.
Organizations like the Immigrant Families Institute in Mattapan and faith communities have been seeking affordable housing and other mutual aid supports for the Haitian families, along with legal help.
“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.
While at the border, the immigrants were asked to go through standard “credible fear” interviews, to discuss their worries about returning to their home countries, including threats of gang violence and persecution. LCR says those conversations were never conducted officially in Haitian Creole, and that the immigrants had to rely on ad-hoc translations by fellow detainees, or Spanish-language interpretation, which isn’t the same as Haitian Creole.
“The lack of language access also hindered the Black families in being properly screened for asylum or other forms of humanitarian relief and immigration protection — and in advocating for much-needed medical care,” the letter says.
Haiti has been the subject of economic and political upheaval after being hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake this summer, and after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July. The Biden administration extended temporary protected status for Haitians who arrived to the U.S., but only if they arrived before this summer. Deportation flights back to Haiti have continued.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley recently held an organizing meeting around the issue, telling a local crowd that she’s using her position on the House Oversight and Reform Committee to make sure “people who have done these abuses are held accountable.” She called the decision to send people back to Haiti “a death sentence.”
“The allegations outlined in this complaint are deeply disturbing and underscore the need for a full investigation into the cruel and inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants by DHS,” Pressley told GBH News. “Haitian lives are Black lives and if we truly believe that Black Lives Matter, then there must be accountability. We should be leading with compassion, not cruelty.”
Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual reporter for GBH News, and longtime Boston muckraker. She was a reporter for CommonWealth Magazine, and senior immigration reporter for Law360. She’s covered politics, immigration, incarceration, and health for The Guardian, DigBoston, The Boston Globe, and The Associated Press.

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