Report from U.S.-Mexico Border as Title 42 Ends: Human Rights Violations, Funerals & Makeshift Camps
Written by GRB on 16/05/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.
For the rest of the hour, we’re hosting a roundtable discussion on the human rights crisis unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border and the impact of President Biden ending the Trump-era pandemic policy known as Title 42 last Thursday, after it had been used to expel nearly 3 million migrants without due process. A lawsuit filed Monday argues Border Patrol has now forced many migrants into makeshift, open-air camps that violate custody standards.
We’re joined now by three guests. All of them are just back from the border. Two of them joined a delegation monitoring the situation. In Santa Ana, California, Guerline Jozef is with us, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigrant advocacy organization that provides humanitarian assistance to Haitians and other Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. In Mexico City, Erika Guevara-Rosas is a human rights lawyer and Americas director for Amnesty International, also part of the delegation. And in Tijuana, Mexico, Erika Pinheiro is an immigration attorney and the executive director of Al Otro Lado, a binational nonprofit helping immigrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
We welcome you all back to Democracy Now! Erika Pinheiro, let’s begin with you. Talk about what’s been happening this past week with the end of Title 42. What are you most concerned about?
ERIKA PINHEIRO: Well, unlike all of the predictions, we did not see a surge of migrants. We did have many migrants who had been waiting patiently, some for years, to seek asylum at ports of entry, who were left with a lot of fear and confusion about the end of this policy, because they had heard that the Biden administration’s new policies would actually further restrict their access to asylum. And so, when Title 42 ended, many of them tried to present themselves at the port of entry, which is consistent with the law and consistent with what Customs and Border Protection told us would be possible. But instead, they were turned back and made their way into these makeshift camps that thousands of people ended up in by yesterday.
And so, in these makeshift camps, Border Patrol was not letting people leave, but they were also not providing food, they were not providing water, they were not providing medical care. We saw babies as young as 3 months, elderly people as old as 80, people with medical emergencies, just a lot of people suffering without food for up to seven days. And so, over the past 24 hours, Border Patrol has finally started to clear these camps out.
But, you know, it’s important to understand the larger context of what’s happening right now. After Title 42 ended, there were actually half as many people entering the United States, but Border Patrol made a choice to hold them in these open-air encampments without access to food, water or medical care, to try to create the impression that there actually was a surge, when that’s not what we were seeing at all. So, my biggest concern is that that will continue to happen on the border, that will be like a political show rather than them using the capacity that they have to process asylum seekers in accordance with the law.
AMY GOODMAN: During a news conference last week, journalist April Ryan questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas about Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing, grabbing and whipping Haitian asylum seekers. She was referring to that 2021 series of photos and video footage from Del Rio, Texas, that sparked a national outcry.
APRIL RYAN: The southern border is not just Mexicans. It is Asians. It’s Africans, as we’ve seen particularly with that issue with the Haitians being whipped with the reins of the horses. But what is there —
DHS SECRETARY ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Well, let me just correct you right there, because —
APRIL RYAN: It is correct.
DHS SECRETARY ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: — actually, the investigation concluded that the whipping did not occur.
APRIL RYAN: I’m sorry. I saw it differently. They were whipped with something from the horse.
AMY GOODMAN: Guerline Jozef, I wanted to bring you into this conversation. Your organization, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, is representing Mirard Joseph. He’s a Haitian who was whipped by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to bring food to his family. Can you talk about what happened to him, also about an image of a U.S. Border Patrol commemorative coin that seems to be glorifying the violence against asylum seekers, that we’re showing on air now for our TV viewers?
GUERLINE JOZEF: Thank you so much, Amy.
The reality is, what Secretary Mayorkas just mentioned is absolutely heartbreaking to hear, because he knows that the investigation that was conducted by the administration only looked into 30 minutes of the entire week-long ordeal of abuse that we all saw in September 2021, and as you could see them celebrating, using that coin, that depict the image of Mirard Joseph in the most inhumane and abusive and humiliating way, and we can clearly see that the officer, the man on horseback holding him, holding his person with his hand, and we could clearly see the whip on his back. So, to say that is really unbelievable. But we all know that we have heard they only looked into 30 minutes of the whole ordeal, where people were abused in the most inhumane way, and really brought us back to a time of slavery. As we are looking into anti-Black racism and extremism into the United States, that is a pure reflection of that. And it did happen.
And we continue to push to hold accountability to the administration. We have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mirard Joseph and 11 others who were under the bridge. And we also want people to understand that over 21,000 people have been deported to Haiti, including Mirard Joseph, including his family, his little girl who turned 2 years old under the bridge, where he was bringing food to them because in the United States we were not providing the bare necessities for them. That is the reality that we continue to live, and that is the reality that we continue to see at the U.S.-Mexico border, where people are patiently waiting and trying to use CBP One to get an appointment, which has been proven to be extremely difficult, especially for people with darker skin colors.
AMY GOODMAN: And April Ryan had a bigger point, going right through to today, in 2023, is how, in particular, Black asylum seekers, Black refugees are being treated, are being protected. And she made the point that the Black Americans who went into Mexico and were killed by gangs, that they were mistaken, it’s believed, according to the gangs themselves, for Haitian refugees. Can you talk about this issue, bringing it right through to today and what we’ve seen even in the past week, and what you think needs to be done, Guerline?
GUERLINE JOZEF: Amy, once again, this is heartbreaking. When that happened early in March, I spent the entire weekend reaching out to both sides, in Mexico and the U.S., to try to identify those people we saw, because at first I was frightened because we could not identify them. We clearly saw, if it wasn’t for the video and the pictures that went viral, those people would have been lost without a trace.
Whether they are U.S. citizens with a U.S. passport or they were Haitian refugees, the moment Black people arrive, they do not matter. And the reality is, whether you are from Haiti or the United States, the U.S.-Mexico is unsafe for them, because we clearly said you can be killed, disappeared, kidnapped at any time. But if — the only reason why we were able to really discuss that is because they found out that they had American passports.
And I will tell you that I personally spent the entire weekend pushing both in Mexico and in the U.S. to identify those people and try to locate them. And it wasn’t until that Monday we finally had heard that they were U.S. citizens, and they were mistaken for being Haitian migrants, Haitian asylum seekers, because they are prey, they are vulnerable. And when they are taken, there’s no recourse. There’s nobody to speak on their behalf. And we continue to see the entire system is fully rooted in anti-Black racism on both sides of the border.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve gone to funerals of Haitians who have died in Mexico?
GUERLINE JOZEF: We have had funerals almost every month of people who have died in Mexico. We, unfortunately, just lost a little baby girl who was born in Reynosa, and we tried to get an emergency evacuation to get her to a hospital in McAllen. Unfortunately, it was too late. So, we literally bury those we can find. And those who just disappear without a trace, we cannot even tell you how many people have just disappeared without a trace. Whether they are Haitians, Indigenous women, Black and Brown, they disappear without a trace every single day at the U.S.-Mexico border. And we specifically continue to bury people every single month.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Erika Guevara-Rosas into this conversation. We’re speaking to you in Mexico City, the Americas director for Amnesty International. Can you talk about how Mexico is cooperating with the United States — President Biden just had, I think it was, an hour-long conversation with AMLO, the president of Mexico — and what you think needs to be done? The effect of this cooperation between the two countries on the issue of migrants?
ERIKA GUEVARA–ROSAS: [inaudible] Title 8 are the latest example of how the U.S. is outsourcing law enforcement and migration and refugee policy not only to Mexico, but to other countries. Under Title 8 now, the Biden administration is also trying to outsource refugee policy to countries such as Guatemala, Colombia. They’ve been agreeing with other countries, including Canada, to try to prevent people from crossing the border. And Mexico, unfortunately, has become complicit of the human rights violations that people are facing, particularly those who are seeking asylum.
The United Nations has just calculated that around 660,000 migrants are stuck at the border, many of these people coming from countries such as Haiti, such as Venezuela, countries in Central America, Cuba, that we know very well are people that are escaping massive human rights violations and are seeking asylum. The Mexico situation, as we saw a few days ago with this Haitian Bridge Alliance delegation — we visited camps in Matamoros, in Reynosa, and we were able to witness the inhumane conditions that people are experiencing in those camps. It’s thanks to local organizations, to individuals that are providing assistance to those people in need of protection, that they are able to receive some food, some medical attention. But in reality, both governments are not fulfilling their international obligations to provide assistance and protection to those people that are seeking asylum or are trying to seek asylum.
And under the new rules, the situation is going to be even more complex, because people are going to continue to be stuck in these very dangerous areas in Mexico, these border areas, that we know are totally controlled by organized crime, and are putting at people not only, you know, at the dangers of trying to cross the border, but also they have been exposed to serious human rights abuses, such as kidnapping, killing and many other things. We have heard from families in those camps a horrible experience while they are trying to transit the country, when they cross the south border of Mexico and they are trying to transit the country in order to get to the north side of the country.
And unfortunately, all these situations, all these abuses, all violations of human rights are in total impunity, because Mexican authorities are not investigating, are not creating paths for people to transit in safety ways. And on the contrary, Mexico just announced that they are going to prevent people from traveling to the southern border to the north of the country. They are not going to provide with any transit visa, so they are forcing people to find other ways, other paths, that, unfortunately, are continuing to expose them to the violence committed by the organized crime.
AMY GOODMAN: You have said that organized crime is one of the biggest beneficiaries of these policies. But can you also talk about the federal prosecutors in April in Mexico filing charges against the nation’s top immigration official over that fire in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, right across from El Paso, which killed some 40 migrants?
ERIKA GUEVARA–ROSAS: Amy, 40 migrants were killed under custody of the Mexican state. There were detained, arbitrarily detained, only because of their migration status. We saw the images of authorities, the indolence of authorities, while people were, you know, in a place on fire. They didn’t do anything to protect them. They didn’t do anything to rescue them. Unfortunately, 40 died, and many others continue to be injured. Some of them continue to be at the hospital.
The investigation that is being carried out has been already lead to the detention of some authorities, low-ranking authorities that were present at the detention center. The National Institute of Migration director has been also brought into the investigation, but he continues to be in his position. He continues to manage the immigration policy of Mexico. He continues, unfortunately, to create conditions for migrants to be at risk. The militarization continues under the National Institute of Migration. And we don’t see, unfortunately, that this investigation is going to lead into real justice for those who were killed in this horrible, horrible situation in Ciudad Juárez.
AMY GOODMAN: And when we talk about the other side of the border, our side, the U.S. side, Erika Pinheiro, your group, Al Otro Lado, and other groups have filed a civil complaint about grave violations of rights in the U.S. committed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, namely Border Patrol agents, who for months have used an open-air corridor between the primary and secondary walls west of San Ysidro Port of Entry in California as a holding area for migrants without complying with custody standards. Can you explain what’s happening there and what we should understand about the border right now?
ERIKA PINHEIRO: Yeah. So, we’ve had this camp of several hundred people right across the border from San Diego for the past week now. It was finally cleared yesterday, after a lot of noise made by civil rights organizations, like my own and others who are working along the border. Like I mentioned earlier, Border Patrol is holding people in this area without providing even the minimum food, water and medical care, even for people who are medically vulnerable. And we’ve also seen several other camps further east in remote desert areas with over a thousand people who are being held in similar situations. So, right now the camps have been cleared because of the advocacy of many organizations along the border, but we’ve already seen new arrivals into this area.
And it’s really important to understand that Customs and Border Protection is the largest federal law enforcement agency in the United States. It’s larger than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. They supposedly were preparing for a surge at the end of Title 42, and they’re not processing people at ports of entry. So, the decision to leave people in inhumane conditions, again, is a choice. It’s a political stunt, made to — trying to make it look like the border is not orderly, that there’s a crisis and that there’s a surge, when, in fact, the only crisis is the way that Border Patrol dehumanizes migrants who are only trying to seek protection in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue this conversation in Spanish after he broadcast, and we’ll post it on our Spanish website. You can go to democracynow.org and click through. Erika Pinheiro, immigration attorney, executive director of Al Otro Lado; Guerline Jozef with the Haitian Bridge Alliance, heads that organization; and Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International, speaking to us from Mexico City.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.