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Haitian migrants want justice for the way they were treated in Texas last year: NPR


The woman identified in court documents as Esther (far right) was among Haitian migrants who say they were threatened by Mounted Border Patrol agents last September as they attempted to return to a makeshift camp in Del Rio , in Texas.

PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images


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PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Haitian migrants want justice for the way they were treated in Texas last year: NPR

The woman identified in court documents as Esther (far right) was among Haitian migrants who say they were threatened by Mounted Border Patrol agents last September as they attempted to return to a makeshift camp in Del Rio , in Texas.

PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

In the chaos of a squalid migrant camp in Del Rio, Texas last year, Esther was in despair. Her 15-month-old son was sick and starving.

There wasn’t enough food in the camp, so she went back to Mexico to buy some. When she attempted to return to camp on the Texas side of the river, Esther says, she was threatened by Mounted Border Patrol agents.

“There were horses, and the way they were talking to us, asking questions, and coming up to us, saying, ‘Go back to Mexico. Go back to Mexico,’” she said over the phone in Haitian Creole through an interpreter.

Photographs and videos of Border Patrol agents on horseback trying to round up a crowd of black migrants have sparked outrage all the way to the White House.

Nearly a year later, some of those Haitian migrants have found their way to safety in the United States — but thousands more have not. And advocates say no one has been held accountable for the way they were treated by immigration authorities at the Del Rio camp, or in the months that followed.

Esther is not the woman’s real name, but NPR uses it because that’s how she was identified in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of a group of Haitian migrants who were in DelRio. Like many migrants, Esther says she came from Chile, where she lived with her husband and son.

She was one of approximately 15,000 Haitian migrants who illegally crossed the border within days of each other last September and found themselves confined to a squalid camp on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Esther says she tried to get her son, who was suffering from fever and diarrhoea, treated in the Del Rio camp. But she says medical staff only gave her water and syrup, which didn’t seem to help.

The incident involving Mounted Border Patrol agents sparked an internal investigation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Not everyone will like every find,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said when he announced the findings at a press conference in July, “but the investigation was full and fair.” .

Investigators found no evidence that officers on horseback hit migrants with the reins of their horses, “intentionally or not”. But their report concludes that some officers on horseback used “unnecessary” force and verbally assaulted the migrants.

“There is no justification for the actions of some of our employees, including unprofessional and deeply offensive conduct,” Magnus said at the time.

A disciplinary review board has recommended action against four Border Patrol agents, Magnus said, although no details on their punishment have been announced.

But Haitian migrants and their advocates say the report is not credible because investigators did not speak to a key group of witnesses: the migrants themselves.

“I was shocked when I heard the report was coming out and when I read the findings,” said Nicole Phillips, legal director of Haitian Bridge Alliance.

The organization, along with other advocacy groups including the Justice Action Center, is suing the Biden administration on behalf of Esther and other migrants.

CBP investigators included the documents filed in this lawsuit as an exhibit in their 500-page report. But Phillips says they never contacted or interviewed the migrants directly.

Phillips says the official report contains significant inaccuracies. For example, she says, Border Patrol agents did hitting migrants with the reins of their horses. She is also disappointed that investigators focused only on the incident with the mounted patrols, while basically ignoring the squalid conditions in the camp.

“There was no investigation into it,” she said. “The lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of medical care. And that’s also what’s really disappointing.”

In the confusion in Del Rio, several thousand migrants were released directly to the United States. Thousands more were deported to Haiti, including two of Esther’s sisters, who had also been in the camp.

Once Esther and her husband realized what was going on, they had to make a choice. They could still try to seek asylum in the United States. But they did not want to risk deportation to Haiti, where she said her life had been threatened because of her family’s political connections.

“What we thought was that we couldn’t go back to Haiti because of the issues that we knew were happening in Haiti,” she said. “I didn’t want to be deported, and that’s why we chose to go back to Mexico.”

Esther and her family decided to cross the river to return to Mexico, where they received medical care for their son, as well as legal aid. Months later, they were allowed to enter the United States to seek asylum. They are now in Florida, living with her husband’s family.

But they know that many other Haitians weren’t so lucky. The United States has deported more than 20,000 people to Haiti since last September, although the pace of deportation flights has dropped sharply since June.

“It was really tough because when you think about all the effort you put in to get there and it’s gone,” said a man identified as Jacques in the Biden administration lawsuit.

Jacques was also in Del Rio last year, hoping to seek asylum. Instead, he was deported to Haiti. Now he hides out in the countryside to avoid the gang that pushed him out of the country in the first place, and says he only travels at night to avoid attention.

“Day by day things are getting worse,” he said over the phone in Haitian Creole through an interpreter. “When you think things are getting better, things are getting worse. But, you know, we have to be resilient because there’s nothing else we can do. We can just be careful.”

Jacques says he’s just trying to survive until he can find a way out of Haiti again.

NPR News

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