A group of Haitian asylum seekers who crossed into Texas as part of a migration surge last September filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration this week over alleged mistreatment by U.S. immigration authorities.
Mirard Joseph, seen in a widely published photo of a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing him by the collar, said it was “the most humiliating experience of his life” when the agent “lashed at him” with his reins and tried dragging him back to the Rio Grande, which separates the U.S. from Mexico.
Joseph had crossed the river from Mexico to bring food to his family when he was confronted by the agent who attempted to drag him back to the water, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the Biden administration deliberately avoided providing humanitarian support to the area in an effort to deter the migrants from crossing.
An unnamed Haitian plaintiff, identified as Paul Doe in the legal complaint, said he saw U.S. authorities beating migrants and shoving them back into the river.
As several migrants attempted to use a rope tied to the U.S. bank of the river to cross more safely, Paul said he saw an officer cut the rope and yell at the migrants to go back as they struggled to keep their heads above water.
The migrants are represented by immigrant advocacy groups Justice Action Center, Haitian Bridge Alliance and Innovation Law Lab. They are asking the government to help them return to the U.S. and give them the opportunity to apply for asylum as well as money to cover their expenses.
"We must hold the Biden administration accountable for the unconscionable civil rights abuses that occurred in Del Rio, Texas," JAC founder Karen Tumlin said at a press conference Tuesday. "The United States government at the highest level knew of a potential influx of asylum seekers in the United States and they chose to not even do the bare minimum to prepare."
ABC News previously reported on internal CBP emails detailing warnings of an unprecedented migrant surge in Del Rio back in June. Local officials in the area had also warned that resources were already becoming overwhelmed by the record setting level of migration across the southwest border.
Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas are named as defendants in the lawsuit. The lawyers cite the Temporary Protected Status designation that Mayorkas extended for Haiti last summer, arguing the administration was aware of the dire circumstances they were sending migrants back to experience.
"Let me be clear: The department does not tolerate any mistreatment of any migrant and will not tolerate any violation of its values, principles, and ethics," Mayorkas said in response to the photos last September.
Agents seen in the photos were placed on administrative duties while an internal Customs and Border Protection investigation into their conduct continues.
Meanwhile, Joseph was sent back to Haiti by U.S. authorities where he now waits for the opportunity to return to the U.S. and claim asylum.