Loads of Haitians are being flown back to Haiti from a makeshift migrant camp under a bridge at the southern border as U.S. Border Patrol personnel on horseback reportedly reined others with ropes and whips back from U.S. soil toward Mexico.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said they are examining photos and videos first published by The El Paso Times showing mounted Border Patrol agents charging at Black migrants with rope as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas.
The images, which quickly spread on Twitter Monday, have caused outrage among human rights advocates and lawmakers alike. Still, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who flew to the border site Monday, claimed the images are not what they seem.
About 10,000 migrants piled under a bridge in Del Rio last week after President Joe Biden paused deportations to Haiti in response to a massive earthquake on the island.
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake shattered Haiti on Aug. 14, killing more than 2,200 people, according to Haitian officials. More than 12,000 people were injured, and more than 129,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.
The August earthquake comes a little over a decade after the 2010 earthquake that Haitian officials said killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than 32,000 residents. Many Haitians fled to South America and are now among the thousands who rushed the border last week for a chance to enter the U.S.
Haiti is also facing political uncertainty following the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have removed more than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants from the makeshift camp Monday, The Associated Press reported.
Haitian officials said they expect six flights with deportees to arrive on Tuesday. The Associated Press reported that 320 migrants were deported to Port-au-Prince on three flights Sunday.
Some of the deportees told The New York Times that they were told they were being flown to Florida after being bused away from the Del Rio camp.
The DHS has deployed 600 employees to the border town, in what the AP said may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades.
Images published in several outlets show agents on horses hurling rope at startled migrants crossing the river near the border Sunday. According to local media outlet the El Paso Times, the federal agents cracked whips and barked demands at the migrants, ordering them to go back to Mexico.
The El Paso Times reported that one migrant fell and others shielded their heads with their hands in response to the onrush.
Mayorkas, however, told reporters in Del Rio that the agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses. By Monday evening DHS was adopting a less excusatory tone, saying in a statement released on Twitter: “DHS does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously.”
“It is inexcusable for the United States to greet Haitians with threats, punishment, and immediate expulsion rather than dignity, compassion, and a fair chance to make their claims, especially at this time of political turmoil and natural disaster,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a tweet of its own on Monday.
“With this massive expulsion push, the Biden administration is writing its own chapter in the United States’ shameful history of racial discrimination towards Haitians and other Black immigrants.”
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota called scenes at the Rio Grande “human rights abuses.” Other Democrats have called on the Biden administration to stop the deportations to Haiti and to review the Haitian migrants’ cases instead of bypassing the asylum process.
More than two dozen Republican governors sent Biden a letter Monday asking him to meet for “open and constructive dialogue regarding border enforcement.” The letter was sent from the governors of Georgia, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Indiana, Montana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, West Virginia, Utah and Tennessee.
“We must end the current crisis and return to border operations that respect the laws of our land and the lives of all people, including those in our states looking to the federal government to enforce and protect our nation’s borders,” the group of governors wrote.