Civil and human rights leaders decry treatment of Haitian migrants at southern border

WASHINGTON —

Civil and human rights groups on Wednesday criticized the White House’s immigration policies for inflicting “cruelty on Black, Brown and Indigenous immigrant communities,” according to a letter sent by the organizations to President Biden.

“We fear that commitments made on the campaign trail … are being shredded before our eyes,” said the letter, which was signed by the leaders of more than 30 civil and human rights groups, including Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; and Franciscka Lucien, executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. The letter was sent to the White House amid bipartisan criticism of the Biden administration’s response in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of mostly Haitian migrants were encamping. Alejandro Mayorkas from Homeland Security told Congress that the deplorable conditions in Del Rio are a “human tragedy” and that officials were working hard to fix them.

U.S. officials had by Tuesday reduced the size of the encampment to under 10,000 people from a high of as many as 15,000 last week, Mayorkas said. Mayorkas stated that “We continue moving individuals from Del Rio into other processing centers to facilitate repatriation,” while the government had “increased repatriation flight to Haiti and other third countries ” by Tuesday. They also said that officials from the United States had reduced the size of the encampment to under people from a high of as many as last week. While your Administration has pledged to uphold the principles of racial equality, it is enacting anti-Black racism immigration policies. The letter didn’t address videos and photos that were released earlier this week which showed Border Patrol agents riding in Del Rio to charge migrants crossing the Rio Grande. Some photos showed agents waving their whips or whipping at migrants, while others were pointing to the sky. The actions of the agents have been condemned by Democrats in particular.

Vice President Kamala Harris said on Tuesday the images were “horrible” and that “human beings should never be treated that way.”

“And I’m deeply troubled about it,” Harris said.

On Wednesday, Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, senior advisor Cedric Richmond and other officials met with nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who tweeted that during the meeting she “made it emphatically clear that those seeking asylum are not to be struck down by those on horses and that other legal rights must be protected.”

I just came out of a meeting at the White House regarding Haitian migrants. I outlined the legal rights of Haitian migrants and made it clear that they are not to be struck down by horses. pic.twitter.com/OCCRVXmAqY

— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) September 22, 2021

Biden is facing critiques from lawmakers in both political parties for his handling of the situation in Del Rio and at the border more broadly. U.S. statistics indicate that authorities have arrested historically high numbers of migrants. In August, migrants were stopped 208,000 times at the Southern border, up from 50,000 that same month last year and 62,700 in August 2019.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Wednesday that the administration’s policies had directly resulted in the border becoming a “nightmare.”

The influx of Haitians at the border resulted from a complex set of circumstances that can be traced to a major earthquake in 2010 that badly damaged the Caribbean nation. Many Haitians fled their homeland in the months following the earthquake and settled in South America. In recent months of political instability, many Haitians fled their country to seek asylum in the United States.

Mayorkas explained to Congress that the situation was caused by “a very rapid, really unprecedented, increase in individuals, primarily Haitian, crossing in one discrete part of the border” at Del Rio.

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