Haitian Bridge Alliance, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 1:21-cv-03317 (D.D.C., filed Dec.20, 2021)

Mirard Joseph is a Haitian man who was whipped by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to bring food to his family in a Texas migrant encampment. Mr. Joseph alleges his wife received only bread and water and a single diaper for their infant daughter each day—conditions that eventually drove him and others to leave the Del Rio encampment and return to Mexico to buy food. When they attempted to reenter the camp with their purchases, they were met by Border Patrol officers who grabbed Mr. Joseph’s shirt, “lashed at him with reins, attempted to drag him back into the water, and nearly trampled him.”

Mr. Joseph and ten other Haitian nationals held in the temporary Border Patrol camp allege that this mistreatment was part of a discriminatory policy by the Biden administration to target Haitians. Plaintiffs allege that the U.S. government differentially applied the Title 42 process—a summary expulsion process purportedly designed to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the government used Title 42 at the Del Rio Port of Entry against Haitian and Haitian-appearing asylum seekers with the purpose of discouraging them from accessing their right to seek asylum. Plaintiffs assert that this Haitian Deterrence Policy diverges from standard practice for asylum seekers and is driven by discriminatory purpose. Despite ample warning that thousands of Haitian migrants were heading toward Del Rio, federal authorities refused to prepare adequate infrastructure to receive them when arrivals started ramping up in September. As a result, a makeshift processing center under the Del Rio International Bridge turned into an encampment, where up to 15,000 people were made to wait for days at a time in temperatures topping 100 degrees without adequate food, water, bedding, or medical attention.

Footage described in the complaint prompted a national outcry in September 2021, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the tape “horrific” during her September 20 press briefing. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas launched an internal investigation into the encounter. While the Secretary initially called for findings to be released by the end of September, results are still pending.

Plaintiffs allege that the Haitian Deterrence Policy did not end with mistreatment in Del Rio. After being processed for admission, the U.S. government placed those Haitian asylum seekers in detention, split up families, and shackled and removed them to Haiti without providing the opportunity to request humanitarian protection in the United States. Plaintiff Wilson Doe testified that DHS officers lied and said his family was being transferred to another detention facility when they were actually being expelled pursuant to Title 42. Officers then beat him when he resisted boarding the plane.

Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fifth Amendment due process clause and the Administrative Procedure Act. They also seek certification for a class of all Haitian or presumed Haitian individuals who were denied access to the U.S. asylum process in or around the Del Rio encampment between September 9 and 24, 2021. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief enjoining the government from subjecting members of the proposed class to the Haitian Deterrence Policy or Title 42 expulsions. They also seek return of those already expelled under Title 42 to allow them to pursue their asylum claims. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on December 20, 2021.

Counsel: Innovation Law Lab; Haitian Bridge Alliance; Justice Action Center.

Contacts:
Taisha Santil | tsaintil@haitianbridge.org
Tasha Moro | tasha.moro@justiceactioncenter.org
Alex Mensing | alexm@innovationlawlab.org

Documents:
Complaint

Press:
Class Action Ties Alleged Whipping To Haitian Discrimination
Haitian Migrants File Lawsuit Protesting Treatment by Border Patrol