The Biden administration is rapidly deporting thousands of Haitian migrants who have been camped at a Texas border town seeking entry to the U.S.
More than 14,000 refugees, most of them Haitian, have been camping out for days in squalid conditions under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Some 3,300 people from the camp have already been sent to detention centers or removed on deportation flights by U.S. immigration agents, USA Today reports.
In a release Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security said it was expelling most of the migrants using Title 42 ― a Trump-era policy that allows the U.S., during the coronavirus pandemic, to quickly deport people crossing the border, typically without processing them for asylum.
Video and photos showed Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping ropes at Haitian refugees on Sunday. The refugees had reportedly gone into Mexico to buy food, and were seeking to return to the camp on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.
Immigrant rights groups expressed outrage, urging U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “stop this discrimination” and slamming the Biden administration for choosing to “shut the door” on Haitians seeking safety.
When asked Monday about the violent images of CBP agents on horseback threatening migrants, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that while she didn’t have the “full context” of what was happening in these incidents, “I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”
A DHS spokesperson said in a statement that the footage is “extremely troubling” and an investigation will be “conducted swiftly,” adding that the agency “does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody.” In a subsequent statement to reporters Monday, Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said he believed the agents were “trying to control” their animals but that officials would investigate the incident.
Advocates have condemned the Biden administration for resuming deportations to Haiti, a country mired in turmoil from the assassination of its president in July and an earthquake in August that killed more than 2,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who herself came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, denounced the videos of CBP agents wielding whip-like ropes as “human rights abuses, plain and simple.” She urged the Biden administration to “humanely process asylum seekers at our border.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) joined dozens of Democratic lawmakers last week in calling on the Biden administration to cease deportation flights to Haiti.
On Monday, in apparent response to the administration’s treatment of Haitian refugees at the border, Pressley tweeted: “Seeking asylum is a human right.”