A Haitian couple in Virginia found themselves at the center of a legal battle after allegedly being forced to shut down their food truck and subjected to discriminatory remarks from the town council.

According to The Associated Press, Clemene Bastien and Theslet Benoir arrived in the U.S. in the 2000s on asylum, seeking an opportunity to pursue the American dream. They established the Eben-Ezer Variety Market on the Eastern Shore, offering items to meet the needs of the growing Haitian community.

Following the success of their market venture, the couple expanded their business by launching a food truck, attracting customers from all over to sample their culinary creations. However, Bastien and Benoir have filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Parksley, claiming that it caused their food truck to close.

The couple also alleged that city council member Henry Nicholson cut off the water supply to the mobile kitchen and called for them to “go back to your own country!” According to Bastien, the crowd that came out to support the business slowly decreased until there were no people left.

“When we first opened, there were a lot of people” ordering food, Bastien told the Associated Press through an interpreter. “And the day after, there were a lot of people. And then … they started harassing us.”

The complaint alleges the town implemented a food truck ban aimed at the couple and later threatened them with fines and even imprisonment when they spoke out against it. Bastian and Benoir are represented by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public-interest law firm that helps protect Americans’ constitutional rights.

“If Theslet and Clemene were not of Haitian descent, Parksley’s town government would not have engaged in this abusive conduct,” the lawsuit states, per the Associated Press

The town council, represented by legal firm Pender & Coward, responded to the allegations, stating they were “simply not true,” the Associated Press reported. The firm argued that Bastian and Benoir failed to apply for a conditional use permit and chose to file a lawsuit. It also stated that Nicholson cut an illegal sewage pipe, not a water line, after the food truck dumped grease into Parksley’s sewage system, per NBC News.

According to World Population Review, Parksley has approximately 798 residents as of 2024. Despite being predominantly white, the area has become increasingly diverse. The Associated Press reported that some residents thought the lawsuit unfairly criticized a town that has successfully incorporated recent immigrants within its 0.625 square miles.

Jeff Parks, a member of the Accomack County Board of Supervisors, also questioned the couple’s complaint that asserted the town was not receptive to them and their business.

“It’s disheartening to see a town that is so open to everyone and welcoming new businesses into its storefronts to be mischaracterized,” Parks said, according to the Associated Press. “We have multiple Haitian businesses, so it wouldn’t make sense that this one was being targeted.”

However, Bastien and Benoir believe otherwise.

“We did everything we’re supposed to do,” Bastien said.

After the couple arrived in the States, they began working in a processing plant for poultry. In 2019, they pursued entrepreneurship and opened a variety market in Parksley.

According to the suit, they opened the food truck on the store’s property in June, but Nicholson allegedly had an issue with the mobile kitchen affecting other restaurants that buy supplies from his appliance store. The couple allege that the city council member then cut the water line, spoiling $1,300 worth of food, and blocked further shipment of grocery items for delivery.

If they hadn’t closed down the food truck, the couple would have been subject to daily fines of $250 as well as a 30-day jail sentence for every day the food truck stayed open. With their business now closed, the couple is seeking $1,300 in reimbursement for financial losses, spoiled food, and attorney fees, the suit states, per the Associated Press.

“We’re waiting to see what justice we’re going to get,” Bastien said. “And then we’ll see if we reopen.”