VOICES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Human Rights Award ‘21 honors Guerline Jozef, issues Call to Action to stop Title 42

Kerry Kennedy

This year, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights transported its annual Human Rights Award from the halls of Congress to outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San San Diego California. In addition to honoring this year’s laureate, Guerline Jozef, the ceremony was marked by a Call to Action, with supporters from around the world tweeting at President Biden to demand he stop Haitian deportations and immediately end Title 42. Read Kerry Kennedy’s remarks in full from the pop-up event here.

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I’m honored to be joined here today with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award laureate Wyclef Jean. The last time we were together in person, we were walking through one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in Port-au Prince, where Wyclef was helping young men transform their lives. I am so happy to be reunited with this champion for justice.

But most of all, I am proud to be back with the great human rights shero, Guerline Jozef.

Guerline is a warrior. She is a true servant of others. She epitomizes faith in action and believes that nothing is impossible with God.

She is the co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of Haitian non-profit organizations and activists who work to protect the civil and human rights of Haitian communities in California and beyond. Guerline is a leader of Faith in Action and the Immigration Justice movement. Along with everything else, she works to prevent child sexual abuse in Haitian immigrant communities.

Thanks to Guerline, the plight of thousands of immigrants have been made better, but so much more can be done if others join her brave fight. That’s why we’re here.

The last time I saw Guerline, we were under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, where 14,000 women, men and children, mostly of Haitian descent, sought refuge in the United States.

The scene was truly terrifying.

I saw tents made of bamboo poles and cardboard, sheathed in old skirts and t-shirts. I saw fathers holding infants, mothers cradling toddlers, and women and men who risked everything because of their belief in the promise and compassion of our great country. But these families were met not by the love and humanism that is the best of America, but by a phalanx of guards, guns and gargantuan SUVs—some emblazoned with white supremacist insignia.

They were seeking the protection they are entitled to as asylum seekers under U.S. and international law—and yet have been subjected to unspeakable violence and discrimination at every step of the way. Most shamefully, they have suffered horrific acts of racism at the hands of the United States government, including assaults by border patrol agents on horseback. One could not help but think about the dogs and hoses unleashed on civil rights activists in Birmingham.

The U.S. government emptied the Del Rio encampment by rapidly deporting as many people and families as possible, including those who have witnessed or experienced the abuse by law enforcement that is currently under investigation.

I love President Biden. I know these are not his values, so it pains me to see this.

The administration must act now to end these atrocities at our border and live up to the values they profess, starting by immediately halting all deportations to Haiti, which is still reeling from a presidential assassination, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a series of powerful tropical storms.

I love President Biden. I know these are not his values, so it pains me to see this.

Currently, the U.S. State department warns against visiting the country, “due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and Covid-19,” placing it in the same high warning category as Afghanistan, Yemen and North Korea.

The mass expulsions of Haitians and other Black asylum seekers and refugees violate the prohibition against non-refoulement—a principle of international and U.S. refugee law that prohibits any form of return where an individual’s safety or freedom remains at imminent risk.

The Biden administration must also immediately rescind the Trump administration’s draconian Title 42, a policy invented by white supremacists and Trump presidential aide Stephen Miller, that was clearly invoked to illegally turn away individuals seeking asylum under the guise of a “public health” mandate.

In order to realign ourselves with foundational principles of international humanitarian and U.S. law, we must welcome all asylum seekers through an equitable process that upholds the human and civil rights of those seeking protection.

Imagine you survived the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Your house and all your belongings were destroyed. You lost much of your family. Not only your family but your neighborhood. Not only your neighborhood but your city. Then you figure out how to take your kids, maybe your husband, and make your way to a country in Latin America, where you don’t speak the language. You figure out how to negotiate the housing and health care and enroll your kids in school. Then, you hear you might be reunited with family members already established in the United States, if you can make it to a place called Del Rio, Texas, wherever the heck that is. You know what we should do with that woman who figured out how to get herself and her family all the way to the bridge at Del Rio? Make her the head of a Fortune 500 company.

You know what would happen if we let all 14,000 of those people into our country?

We would be a stronger, kinder, more hard working, more determined country, with a stronger commitment to family, freedom and peace than ever before.

Shortly after Del Rio I had dinner with my mom. We talked about human rights missions to Haiti advocating for health care and the right to water. She asked what RFK Human Rights was doing to address the abuses against Haitian immigrants.

I told her that within a week we filed FOIA requests with 28 federal government entities. We sued the U.S. government and petitioned for immediate precautionary measures to stop the flights to Haiti and to allow all immigrants to exercise their rights to apply for asylum.

But nothing made my mom more proud than when I said, we are coming together with Ripple of Hope Award laureate Wyclef Jean, leadership council member John Boyer, our incredible staff, Wade McMullen, Angelita Baeyens, Sierra Ewert, Eli Dreyfus, Kerry Kasper, Kristi Ueda and most importantly, all of you, in San Diego to present the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award to Guerline.

At RFK Human Rights, we believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. No one is closer to the challenge of the crucible of immigration, poverty and race than Guerline Jozef. For Guerline, this fight is not an abstract policy decision. She is on the ground, in the camps, in the courts, on the front line.

At RFK Human Rights, we believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. No one is closer to the challenge of the crucible of immigration, poverty and race than Guerline Jozef.

I have witnessed her faith in action. In Del Rio with everything else going on, Guerline noticed a mother holding a baby who was very still. Very, very still. Far too still. The mother was in shock. The baby was dying. Guerline convinced the mother to let her take the child, who was airlifted to Houston, got the nutrition and care she desperately needed, and miraculously survived. That’s Guerline, working on the big issues, but always, always doing so from the perspective of the people in front of her. Guerline is now the godmother of that child.

Mother Teresa was asked, how do you help so many people? She said, “you help one, and then another.” That’s Guerline. Each one is precious, each one is deserving. Each one is a child of God.

Thanks to Guerline, the plight of thousands of immigrants have been made better, one person at a time. But so much more can be done if others join her brave fight. That’s why we’re here.

Guerline: know that we are standing alongside you in this fight for fundamental dignity. With every march, with every vigil, with every single immigrant’s story told, you are creating hope for the just and peaceful world my father believed could be our inheritance.

I am so very proud to present the great heroine of human rights, Guerline Jozef, with the RFK Human Rights Award.

Guerline: know that we are standing alongside you in this fight for fundamental dignity. With every march, with every vigil, with every single immigrant’s story told, you are creating hope for the just and peaceful world my father believed could be our inheritance.

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