DHS Looks to Staff Gitmo Migrant Facility With Guards Who Speak Haitian Creole Amid US Border Surge
© AP Photo / Charles DharapakAs of Wednesday, US authorities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will prohibit lawyers from bringing food to their imprisoned clients during meetings, purportedly to ensure food safety.
© AP Photo / Charles Dharapak
In the early 90s, US Coast Guard cutters transported thousands of Haitians fleeing the coup-hit country to refugee camps based at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. At one point, the detention facility came under human rights scrutiny, and was branded an "HIV prison camp" for its quarantining of HIV+ refugees and their relatives.
A recent government contract listing shows the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is preparing to move some 20 individuals to Guantanamo Bay's Migrant Operations Center (MOC) - a facility that has the capacity to properly house up to 120 people.
Per the contract listing, first reported by NBC News, ICE is seeking to obtain services from a company that can maintain a roster of at least 50 unarmed custody and security personnel for the MOC.
The Department of Homeland Security agency also calls for specific language requirements amongst the ranks.
"At least 10% of the augmented personnel must be fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole," the listing read.
ICE detailed that a possible "surge event" could bring the facility's total population to up to 400 migrants.
"The service provider shall be responsible to maintain on site the necessary equipment to erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event," the listing read.
While there is a specified language requirement for security personnel, no information was provided on the migrants expected to be transferred to the MOC.
The listing, published on September 17, came days before the widespread circulation of images and videos showing Haitians being chased down by US Border Patrol agents.
The move has brought a bipartisan wave of condemnation and questions, ranging from US border security to possible human rights violations.
Democrats with the House Oversight and Reform Committee have requested a briefing on the matter from officials with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
"In the words of the late Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, 'We’re better than this,'" the committee wrote in a Wednesday statement. "We expect CBP to take immediate action to ensure that all migrants are treated humanely and with respect."
Marsha Espinosa, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, weighed in on the development and asserted on Wednesday evening that the department "is not and will not send Haitian nationals being encountered at the southwest border to the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) in Guantanamo Bay."
"The MOC has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement," the DHS spokesperson added. "The request for information (RFI) recently posted is a typical, routine first step in a contract renewal, and unrelated to the Southwest Border."
Estimates suggest that some 14,000 Haitian migrants had converged along the US-Mexico border community of Del Rio, Texas, in search of a better life, with some seeking to escape violence, discrimination and find work opportunities. However, while many have opted to return to Mexico over deportation fears, reports indicate that others have chosen to stay put.
The rise in Haitian migration began to bubble up shortly after US President Joe Biden undertook efforts to reverse many of his predecessors strictest immigration policies at the start of his administration.