A class-action lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court by 35 people in the Virgin Islands against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating their civil rights.
At a press conference on St. Croix Tuesday, lawyers representing the individuals said the lawsuit stems from practices conducted by USDA officials who placed the names of African-American and Hispanic Virgin Islanders seeking loan applications on a waiting list while giving applications to whites.
Washington, D.C.-based lawyer James Morrison said the suit could grow to between 1,600 and 5,400 people. The time span for the suit is from 1981 to the present.
The suit follows another class action against the USDA by some 5,000 black, stateside farmers. In that suit, settled in early 1999, a settlement was reached that paid $50,000 to individual black farmers who were discriminated against in the 1980s and '90s. The settlement also excused farmers' debts to the USDA.
In the USDAs own civil rights report conducted in 1997, the department was called "the last plantation" because of the perception that it played a "key role in what some see as a conspiracy to force minority and socially disadvantaged farmers off their land through discriminatory loan practices."
As for the USDAs past practices in the territory, Morrison said the conduct was "extreme."
"In 25 years of practicing law, I havent seen conduct so deep-rooted and insidious," he said.