September 22, 2021, New York — In response to news reports that the Biden administration intends to hire private contractors for detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay for Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
The Biden administration’s reported decision to use Guantánamo — an international symbol of lawlessness, brutality, and racism — to detain desperate Haitian refugees is almost too shocking to believe. They would be replicating a dystopian nightmare for the world to watch, again. We represented HIV+ Haitian refugees fleeing persecution in 1991, when the first Bush administration detained them in Guantánamo in order to avoid affording them rights as refugees under international law. We then represented the first Muslim men and boys to challenge their indefinite detention by the second Bush administration in the so-called “war on terror.” Then, as before, Bush and Rumsfeld intended to create a legal black hole — a prison beyond the law. It should be clear to the Biden administration both that they cannot simply warehouse people in our imperial island prison in an attempt to avoid the law, and also that the Center for Constitutional Rights and our partners would sue to ensure that these refugees are protected.
That these news reports come on the heels of recent images of white, cowboy-clad Customs and Border Protection officers on horseback, whipping terrified Black refugees, reminiscent of the practices of overseers of enslaved people, plainly reveals the deadly ideology of white supremacy at play. Any decision to send Haitian refugees to Guantanamo would underscore a belief, in the way the Biden administration's predecessors perceived Haitians in 1991 or Muslims in 2002, that these Haitian refugees — fleeing horrific political and environmental disasters at home — are less than human, and thus do not possess human rights, including the right to enter the United States to make a claim for asylum. It is how the administration can contemplate casting them out to a disgraced symbol of the dehumanization of others, to an island prison where presidents have sought to suspend protections of law for Black people and Muslims.
We have joined calls with others demanding the end to the systematic discriminatory treatment of Black migrants and the wildly overbroad and pretextual use of public health measures (like the use of Haitians’ HIV status in 1991) to effectuate mass exclusions of those who are most vulnerable and most in need of the protection afforded by law. Some recent reporting contains denials from the administration that it will send people from the southern border to the island prison. Still, we must be vigilant to ensure Biden immigration practices do not shift from a current place of disappointment, cruelty, and racist exclusion into the historical ignominy inextricably associated with one of the worst U.S. impulses: Guantánamo.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.