William Barr is set to become US attorney general once again, this time as Trump's nominee to replace Jeff Sessions. Barr previously held the post from 1991 to 1993 under the first Bush administration. Now, a particularly gruesome part of his legacy has come back to bite.
During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Barr acknowledged and defended the establishment of camps where HIV-positive Haitians were kept while fleeing the country's violent political uprising, the Daily Beast reports. Barr called the measure a "catch 22" because the government's hands were tied when it came to HIV-positive people entering the country. Barr oversaw the detainment of hundreds of HIV-positive refugees at the Guantanamo Bay facility. A federal judge deemed the quarantine unconstitutional and called the facility an "HIV prison camp."
At the time, a Haitian military coup threatened the lives of supporters of the overthrown leader. These refugees had to go through a "credible fear" interview to gain asylum and, before a federal judge intervened, some were even sent back to Haiti where they faced a violent death. However, refugees who tested HIV positive were sent to a separate Guantanamo Bay facility where they held a higher standard to gain refugee status, CBS News reports.
According to a 1998 paper written by Michael Ratner, an attorney who fought against the detention, Barr "believed that everyone who was HIV-positive should be returned to Haiti" despite the life-ending threat awaiting them there. Some Haitians were told they would be detained for 10-20 years or until "a cure for AIDS is found."
Given Trump's own penchant for detaining people on American soil, some lawmakers are worried that Barr's history would make for a deadly, unconstitutional duo.
"Given this administration's troubling record of migrant deaths and family separation, we need an attorney general who will stand up to the president to ensure the safety of people fleeing for their lives," senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told the Daily Beast. "I am worried Mr. Barr is not the man for the job."
A. Naomi Paik, an assistant professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Illinois and author of Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War II said that with this administration's "massive increase" in immigrant criminalization, adding "someone like Barr, they have a lot more tools now in their toolkit to keep migrants in detention."
Barr defended the practice in a 2001 interview with the University of Virginia's Miller Center.
The Trump administration detained an HIV-positive gay man who was seeking asylum from his native Russia while he was flying back to Miami, Florida, after visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017.
But hey, rest assured. If this isn't enough to give you pause, Barr also says he believes that federal law does not protect LGBTQ+ Americans, and that "there's no statistical evidence of racism in the criminal justice system," according to Vox. Well, doesn't he sound fun.