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The White House on Monday criticized widely shared images of U.S. border patrol agents in Texas rounding up Haitian migrants on horseback.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, was asked if the use of horses and whips, imagery reminding of slavery, represented an “appropriate tactic."
She said: “I have seen some of the footage. I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate. I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”
U.S. officials said Monday that more than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from the encampment at the Texas border town of Del Rio, defending their response.
Calling it a “challenging and heartbreaking situation," Alejandro Mayorkas, homeland security secretary, said: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
Border patrol chief Raul Ortiz said he would look into the actions of the agents on horseback to push back migrants and refugees at the river between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Del Rio, but officials said nothing was wrong based on the photos and video.
More than 12,000 Haitians have arrived in Del Rio in the past weeks, crowding in a huge makeshift camp under and near a bridge. Many are moving between the two cities, seeking food and supplies in Mexico while family members wait in the US. Haitians have been migrated to the U.S. via South America for several years, mostly through the Darien Gap, a jungle in Panama.
Recent arrivals say the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti along with the assassination of the president, Jovenel Moïse, make them afraid to return.
The U.S., however, has begun an operation to fly thousands back to their homeland and stop others from crossing from Mexico, beginning what seems to be one of America’s swiftest, large-scale expulsions in decades.
Thread: A day in the migrant camp of about 14,000, mainly Haitians, near the border bridge in Del Rio, Texas. pic.twitter.com/0BpD4EZsxR
When the border at Del Rio closed on Sunday, migrants and refugees moved further east to cross the Rio Grande River, separately the US and Mexico, who were stopped by border patrol agents on horseback and law enforcement officials.
Mexican authorities in airboats told others to go back into Mexico, and reporters at the scene witnessed agents yelling at migrants to get out of the waist-deep river. Hundred who crossed were ordered back to the Del Rio camp.
“Go now,” agents yelled, and a reporter for the El Paso Times saw one agent “swing his whip menacingly, charging his horse toward the men in the river."
On Monday, Mayorkas told reporters he had been told “that to ensure control of the horse, long reins are used, but we are going to investigate the facts to ensure that the situation is as we understand it to be, and if it’s anything different, we will respond accordingly.”
In Haiti, more than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights on Sunday and six flights are expected on Tuesday, with the U.S. planning to begin seven expulsion flights daily on Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haïtien, officials told AP.
A pandemic-related authority adopted by Donald Trump is what allows for migrants to be immediately removed. The Biden administration exempted unaccompanied children but let the Trump-era order stand. Republicans in Washington are using events in Del Rio to portray the US-Mexico border spun out of control.
Mexico announced it will also deport Haitians. In Port-au-Prince on Sunday, dozens of returning migrants lined up to receive plates of rice, beans, chicken and plantains. All were given $100 and tested for COVID-19, though authorities said they will not be put into quarantine.