2021-09-22 02:45:51 Images of Border Patrol’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants Prompt Outrage
Images of Border Patrol’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants Prompt Outrage
WASHINGTON (AP) — Images of Border Patrol agents on horses pushing back Haitian migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States have sparked outrage among Democrats and called President Biden’s decision to quickly deport thousands who had been arriving en masse at a small Texas border town into question.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the treatment “horrible” and said she planned to discuss it with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who has launched an investigation.
“Human beings should never be treated in that manner,” Ms. Harris stated. “And I’m deeply concerned about it.”
When asked if Mr. Biden had seen the images, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said, “He believes the footage and photos are horrific.” They are not representative of who we are as a country. And he was pleased to see the investigation’s announcement.”
The photos and video footage of the agents’ interactions with the migrants, which were widely shared on social media, provided a glimpse of the chaos that had been unfolding since last week, when large groups of Haitians began crossing the Rio Grande and illegally entering the United States in Del Rio, Texas. It is the latest example of the Biden administration’s efforts to assert control over an increasing number of border crossings, despite the president’s pledge to reinstate an asylum program for vulnerable families fleeing persecution and poverty.
The videos appear to show Border Patrol agents on horseback corralling migrants and forcing them back into Mexico. Some of the agents were grasping and waving what appeared to be reins, prompting accusations that they were whipping them. One video shows an agent yelling an expletive at a migrant.
According to an official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategies, the Biden administration has flown more than 1,000 people to Haiti since Sunday and plans to run seven flights a day beginning Wednesday, with room for 135 migrants on each plane. Some top Democrats, however, said that strategy was flawed.
“I urge President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to put an end to these expulsions immediately,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “We cannot continue Trump’s xenophobic and hateful policies that disregard our refugee laws.”
The public health rule enacted by the Trump administration at the start of the coronavirus pandemic was used more than 700,000 times by the Biden administration to quickly deport migrants, many of whom were seeking asylum.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress was keeping a close eye on what she called a “heartbreaking” situation.
“All asylum seekers must be treated in accordance with the law and with basic decency,” she stated in a statement. “Any acts of aggression or violence are unacceptable and must be investigated.”
On Tuesday, leaders of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, sent a letter to Mr. Biden condemning the treatment of Haitians.
“White (and white-presenting) men on horseback with lariats are seen chasing, yelling, and cursing vulnerable Black asylum seekers who have been fleeing toward what they thought was safety for weeks and months,” they wrote. “These Border Patrol officers’ actions are disgraceful and demonstrate an indifference to the humanity of Black migrants.”
The Border Patrol, which was established in 1924 with agents recruited from the Texas Rangers and local sheriff’s offices, is a sprawling arm of Customs and Border Protection. When President Donald J. Trump used harsh measures to limit the number of immigrants entering the United States, the agency was thrust into the spotlight.
It was also at the heart of some of Mr. Trump’s harsher immigration policies, such as the “zero-tolerance” policy that separated thousands of children from their parents and the practice of rapidly expelling migrants across the border during the pandemic, which Mr. Biden has maintained.
Mr. Biden nominated Chris Magnus, the Tucson police chief who is known as a reformist, as his Customs and Border Protection commissioner to fulfill his campaign promise of improving the agency’s accountability.
However, nine months into Mr. Biden’s term, the Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearing.
During a news conference in Del Rio on Monday, Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz said the mounted unit was sent to help with security and to see if any migrants were in distress, as well as to gather intelligence on smuggling organizations.
“Operating on horseback in a riverine environment is a difficult situation,” he said, adding that agents used reins to try to control horses so that they did not inadvertently injure migrants. He claimed that the actions of one agent on horseback, who appeared to be spinning his reins like a lasso as he loomed over a group of people in the water, were most likely related to that challenge.
“But we will certainly investigate the matter,” Chief Ortiz added, “to ensure that we do not have any activity that could be construed as a response to an unacceptable law enforcement effort.”
According to Gil Kerlikowske, a former Customs and Border Protection commissioner, the Border Patrol’s mounted unit has previously been deployed to areas where agents may struggle to see migrants attempting to elude them, such as the vast brush of carrizo cane along the Rio Grande. Migrants, according to agents, can easily slip past them in the wooded areas.
However, the agents on horseback appeared to be along an open stretch of the Rio Grande on Monday, where no families with children were gathered.
Mr. Kerlikowske said of the horses, “They’re really good to observe in brush,” but “out in the open, especially with a lot of people, is probably not the best place for them to be.”
“I think they’re really trying to send a strong deterrence message,” he said of the Border Patrol.
Mr. Biden has turned to deterrence measures, insisting that the border is not open and using repatriation flights to convey that now is not the time for migrants to try to come to the United States, despite initially suggesting that his administration would end the public health rule and revert to allowing migrants to go through the usual asylum process. Border crossings have reached their highest level in decades in recent months.
Nonetheless, there has been inconsistency at various points along the border regarding who will be barred from entering the US under the public health rule. According to some, this has caused migrants to be “confused about what the situation is on the border and how they can best seek protection,” according to Robyn Barnard, senior advocacy counsel for refugee protection at Human Rights First.
Immigration advocates have also suggested that the administration is ignoring its own assessment of living conditions in Haiti, which it deemed so severe that it extended authorization to any Haitian in the country to live temporarily in the United States in late July.
“It is heinous that Haitian families seeking safety in the midst of political violence and a devastating earthquake at home are met with anti-Black violence and no real opportunity to seek protection,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Women’s Refugee Commission.
Many of the migrants who have recently arrived in Del Rio have not lived in Haiti for years; instead, they have been in South America since fleeing the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. This has made quick deportations even more difficult for people who have been repatriated to a country they know little about.
In reality, not all migrants arriving at the Del Rio border are deported. Hundreds of Haitian families have expressed fear of returning home, and they have been granted entry into the United States to seek asylum.
Republicans grilled Mr. Mayorkas about the latest border crisis during a Senate hearing on Monday.
“This is a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio, and you can spin it any way you want. But you’re right: we shouldn’t minimize the humanitarian conditions for which, frankly, you’re to blame,” Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said after Mr. Mayorkas described the conditions he witnessed in Del Rio as a “human tragedy” the day before.
Mr. Hawley went on to say, “You and your administration are responsible.” “Tens of thousands of people living in shocking, shocking conditions brought here by your policies.”
He made his remarks after questioning Mr. Mayorkas about the Biden administration’s plan to address the rise in illegal immigration.
On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the administration for the crisis in Del Rio.
“What the world is witnessing right now are the Biden administration’s open-border policies. It draws people from all over the world,” Mr. Abbott explained. “It’s total chaos, and the Biden administration needs to step up their game significantly.”
J. David Goodman from Austin, Texas, and Annie Karni from Washington, D.C., contributed reporting.