Despite DHS secretary claim, lawyer for Haitian migrant says investigation was a ‘sham’

“We all saw the photo go viral,” Nicole Phillips, legal director at Haitian Bridge Alliance, told theGrio.

A decision by a D.C. federal judge could come at any moment over whether to hear a class action lawsuit filed by the Haitian Bridge Alliance on behalf of 11 Haitian migrants accusing Customs and Border Patrol of mistreatment at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group of plaintiffs includes Mirard Joseph, who was infamously photographed in what many believed to be a horse-mounted border patrol whipping him with a horse rein in 2021. 

“We all saw the photo go viral,” Nicole Phillips, legal director at Haitian Bridge Alliance, told theGrio.

united states border patrol
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

The pending ruling in the federal lawsuit comes as the controversial Trump-era Title 42 policy ended May 11 and as the federal government manages an influx of migrants seeking asylum in the United States at the southern border.

Phillips spoke to theGrio on Friday while at the border, where she and other immigration lawyers and advocates are monitoring the actions after the COVID-19 public health emergency restriction was lifted Thursday night. 

The suit filed by Haitian Bridge Alliance alleges the federal government created inhumane conditions for approximately 15,000 Haitian migrants stationed at an encampment near the Del Rio, Texas border in September 2021. The complaint accuses border patrol of leaving migrants “without giving them access to the asylum process or screening them for a fear of return to their home country.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the Biden administration and several government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and others. 

Phillips said the government violated the constitution, due process, and other policies and laws “in the way they handled and treated the Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas.”   

The federal government filed a motion to have the class action lawsuit dismissed; however, the Haitian Bridge Alliance disputed. Now both sides are waiting for an answer. 

During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas pushed back against the notion that Joseph, the migrant from the viral photo, was whipped. He told theGrio an internal DHS investigation “concluded that the whipping did not occur.”

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 11: Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. Mayorkas took questions from reporters about the expiration Title 42. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The request by the government to dismiss the lawsuit was a result of the investigation launched in 2021 and concluded in 2022. Phillips does not believe the investigation was a fair one. The attorney for the migrant advocacy group called it a “sham investigation” that involved “all law enforcement.” She noted that the “biased” internal probe did not include “a single migrant” being interviewed.

Phillip also suggested a sort of cover-up by officials in Del Rio after the Haiti migrant controversy. 

“Thousands [Haitians] were expelled immediately to get rid of the witnesses,” she declared. “We put no weight at all in that investigation.”

As all sides wait for the federal judge’s decision on whether to hear the case, the broader question now is on the treatment of Black migrants at the border.

Immigration advocate Nana Gyamfi, co-founder of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives and Human Rights Advocacy, told theGrio that the recent lifting of Title 42 and the start of Title 8 enforcement will “suppress” Black migrants, who she noted “are required to ask for asylum in countries they transit through.” 

She explained, “Many of those countries are too dangerous for Black migrants to request asylum.” 

YUMA, ARIZONA- MAY 20: Immigrants from Haiti, who crossed through a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, wait in line to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol on May 20, 2022 in Yuma, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Gyamfi used the current conflict in Sudan as an example. “If a native of Sudan wanted to file for asylum and come to the United States, how could they, as there’s no one in the embassy?” she queried. “Americans were told to leave the country because of a deadly war there.”

A Biden official, who wished to remain anonymous, told theGrio that the administration admits “more refugees from Africa than any other region” and that President Biden “increased the number of refugees we accept globally more than any predecessor” with a cap of 125,000 a year.

The official also noted that the administration’s new parole program announced in January that admits up to 30,000 Haitians per month has, to date, admitted 32,000 Haitians.

“That parole program, in four months, has admitted more Haitians than … from most of the world this year as refugees,” said the official. “That is not an overstatement.”

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