Our Voices

RFKHR at the United Nations: Why the U.S. doesn’t have reliable statistics to measure anti-Black discrimination in U.S. immigration

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 2021 HRA Laureate Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, testified before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, one of the few international treaties the U.S. has signed on to.

The topic? The continual systemic mistreatment of Black migrants at the border and beyond.

In this conversation, RFKHR Vice President for advocacy and litigation Anthony Enriquez details the historical precedent before this important testimony.

Below is an excerpt from that conversation:

One of the foundations of U.S. culture – a value that sets us apart from the rest of the world – is American exceptionalism.

While on its face that sounds positive, because America is more of an idea than a place, after all, it’s more complicated than that when it comes to international law.

“Historically, international law faces significant skepticism in U.S. law and culture,” said Enriquez. “The U.S. has prized its sovereignty and ideals of individualism over norms of international cooperation. This is reflected in our political and social history. … If we truly are exceptional, as the thinking goes, then other countries’ rules shouldn’t apply to us.”

Along with Jozef, Enriquez and fellow RFK Human Rights attorney Sarah Decker traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which is one of the few international human rights treaties the U.S. has signed on to. CERD will be reviewing American compliance with the treaty, which it does for all participating countries on a rotating basis.

“The U.S. review of compliance with CERD, and civil society participation in it, is significant because it represents one of the only opportunities on the international stage to encourage U.S. legal culture and norms to align with international law,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez and his team, along with the Haitian Bridge Alliance, also submitted a report to CERD regarding the abuse of Black Haitian migrants – directly by federal agents, and more broadly by the U.S. government – in Del Rio, Texas, on the U.S. border with Mexico in 2021.

Migrants had arrived there seeking temporary protected status after one of the most deadly natural disasters of 2021 – a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti that left more than 2,000 dead, 12,000 hurt, and thousands without shelter, safe drinking water, and food insecure, according to UNICEF. It was followed closely after by Tropical Depression Grace, which further hampered any efforts to keep Haitians safe in the affected areas. Roughly 800,000 people were affected, including more than 300,000 children, UNICEF said.

It was natural that Haitians would head elsewhere seeking safety and better conditions. But that’s not what they found in the U.S.

Many saw the moments captured by news cameras, with Customs and Border Patrol agents on horseback, whipping migrants with reins, and heard Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas say the abuses would be addressed in “days, not months.” But the DHS report only told the story of those few minutes, not the totality of what happened during that time.

The migrants were eventually deported on emergency flights, awarded in a no-bid contract – the first of its kind – at a 1900% markup.

“It was such an emergency that the government had to pay whatever they had to as a deterrent,” Enriquez said.

It was a completely different reception than white Ukrainian migrants got just six months later when their country was invaded by Russia and they were welcomed with open arms, he added.

Black migrants see higher denial rates for asylum and bear the brunt of cruelties and abuse at our borders. That’s what Enriquez hopes the report makes clear to CERD.

“We actually don’t have reliable statistics to measure anti-Black discrimination in U.S. immigration. This is because the government doesn’t track race in much of immigration enforcement; only nationality,” he said. “When we say that Black people are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement or denied the opportunity to apply for asylum, that’s shorthand for saying ‘people from majority-Black countries.’ But it also undercounts the discrimination that Black people face. For example, at Del Rio, many of the Black people expelled were of Chilean descent, from Haitian parents. But without racial data, the Chileans wouldn’t be counted as expulsion of a Black person. This undercounting and uncertainty is an issue we will bring up with the CERD committee. Because how can the U.S. claim to be making an effort to end racial discrimination when it can’t even reliably understand the extent of the problem?”

For a look at both the report and a transcript of Jozef’s testimony, please click here.