WH Faces Backlash on Haitian Migrants 09/22 06:17
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is facing sharp condemnation from
Democrats for its handling of the influx of Haitian migrants at the U.S.
southern border, after images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback using
aggressive tactics went viral this week.
Striking video of agents maneuvering their horses to forcibly block and move
migrants attempting to cross the border has sparked resounding criticism from
Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are calling on the Biden administration to end
its use of a pandemic-era authority to deport migrants without giving them an
opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., an administration ally, said
images of the treatment of the migrants "turn your stomach" and called on the
administration to discontinue the "hateful and xenophobic" policies of Biden's
predecessor, Donald Trump.
"The policies that are being enacted now -- and the horrible treatment of
these innocent people who have come to the border -- must stop immediately,"
Schumer told the Senate on Tuesday.
At the same time, the administration continues to face attacks from
Republicans, who say Biden isn't doing enough to deal with what they call a
"crisis" at the border.
Reflecting the urgency of the political problem for the administration,
Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday the images "horrified"
him, a seeming shift in tone from a day earlier, when he and others were more
sanguine about the situation at the border.
Mayorkas announced later that the agents involved have been placed on
administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation. "The actions
we're taking are swift and strong, and we will take further action as the facts
adduced in the investigation compel," he said on Twitter.
It's a highly uncomfortable position for the administration, led by a
president who has set himself up as a tonic for the harshness of his
predecessor. But immigration is a complex issue, one no administration has been
able to fix in decades. And Biden is trapped between conflicting interests of
broadcasting compassion while dealing with throngs of migrants coming to the
country -- illegally -- seeking a better life.
The provision in question, known as Title 42, was put in place by the Trump
administration in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an
effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the Biden administration
has used Title 42 to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants who in recent
days have set up an encampment in and around the small city of Del Rio, Texas.
The provision gives federal health officials powers during a pandemic to take
extraordinary measures to limit transmission of an infectious disease.
A federal judge late last week ruled the regulation was improper and gave
the government two weeks before its use was to be halted, but the Biden
administration on Monday appealed the decision.
"The Biden administration pushing back on this stay of expulsions is another
example of broken promises to treat migrants with respect and humanity when
they reach our borders to exercise their fundamental right to asylum," said
Karla Marisol Vargas, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and
co-counsel on the litigation.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson demanded a meeting with Biden to discuss the
situation and called the treatment of the Haitian migrants "utterly sickening."
"The humanitarian crisis happening under this administration on the southern
border disgustingly mirrors some of the darkest moments in America's history,"
he said in a statement.
Shortly after the judge's decision on Friday, Homeland Security officials
formed a plan to begin immediately turning the groups of Haitian migrants
around, working against the clock. But people kept coming.
Trump essentially put a chokehold on immigration. He decreased the number of
refugees admitted to a record low, made major changes to policy and essentially
shut down asylum.
Biden has undone many of the Trump-era policies, but since his inauguration,
the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by
border officials. The Haitian migrants are the latest example.
More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from the
encampment in Del Rio, and Mayorkas predicted a "dramatic change" in the number
of migrants there within the next two to four days as the administration
continues the removal process.
As the controversy swirled around him, Biden spent his Tuesday address at
the U.N. General Assembly in New York calling for the global community to come
together to defend human rights and combat injustice worldwide, declaring, "the
future will belong to those who embrace human dignity, not trample it."
The remarks stood in notable contrast to images of the Border Patrol agents
on horseback. Biden himself seemed to acknowledge the challenge his
administration faces with immigration, offering a clipped response when asked
by a reporter after his U.N. remarks to offer his reaction to the images.
"We'll get it under control," he insisted.
Vice President Kamala Harris also weighed in, telling reporters in
Washington that she was "deeply troubled" by the images and planned to talk to
Mayorkas about the situation. Harris has been tasked with addressing the root
causes of migration to the U.S., and emphasized that the U.S. should "support
some very basic needs that the people of Haiti have" that are causing them to
flee their homes for the U.S.
Videos and photos taken in recent days in and around Del Rio show Border
Patrol agents confronting Haitians along the Rio Grande near a border bridge
where thousands of migrants have gathered in hopes of entering the country.
One Border Patrol agent on horseback was seen twirling his long leather
reins in a menacing way at the Haitian migrants, but not actually striking
anyone. There was no sign in photos and videos viewed by The Associated Press
that the mounted agents were carrying whips or using their reins as such when
confronting the migrants.
The agents, wearing chaps and cowboy hats, maneuvered their horses to
forcibly block and move the migrants, almost seeming to herd them. In at least
one instance, they were heard taunting the migrants.
Asked about the images on Tuesday, Mayorkas told lawmakers that the issue
had been "uppermost in my mind" ever since he had seen them. He said the
department had alerted its inspector general's office and directed that staff
from the Office of Professional Responsibility be present round-the-clock in
"I was horrified to see the images, and we look forward to learning the
facts that are adduced from the investigation, and we will take actions that
those facts compel," Mayorkas said. "We do not tolerate any mistreatment or
abuse of a migrant. Period."
Previously, during a Monday news conference, both Mayorkas and Border Patrol
Chief Raul Ortiz played down the incident, with Ortiz telling reporters that
the agents were working in a difficult and chaotic environment and trying to
control their horses.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mayorkas spoke Monday before he
had seen the images. "He believes this does not represent who we are as a
country and does not represent the positions of the Biden-Harris
administration," Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.
Criticism was withering from members of Congress, including Rep. Bennie
Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security
Committee. He called on Mayorkas to "take immediate action to hold those
responsible accountable." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for an
Republicans, meanwhile, stepped up their continued criticism of Biden's
approach to the border, with 26 Republican governors calling on the president
to change his border policies.
"A crisis that began at the southern border now extends beyond to every
state and requires immediate action before the situation worsens," they said in