The recently published images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback attacking Haitian refugees with whips and insults provoked a strong public response in the U.S. and across the world, critical of President Joe Biden, who had ordered thousands of Haitian migrants arriving at Texas border towns to be “peacefully” returned to their own country.
Republicans have called the U.S. government’s response to the thousands of Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande with the intention of reaching American soil “weak and ineffective,” and called for a stronger response to these refugees. At the same time, Democrats and immigrant rights activists have criticized the administration and believe that Biden has broken his campaign promise to defend foreigners who come to the U.S. in search of a better life.
In the widely reported images, U.S. Border Patrol agents can be seen on horseback, wielding whips as they surround the migrants and, in some images, using those whips to attack them.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who served under Barack Obama, criticized the Biden administration’s use of a public health order from the Donald Trump administration that sought to prevent migrants from entering the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Castro said, “On the issue of asylum and refugees, Trump’s policies appear to be becoming the default,” adding that “for whatever reason, this administration has treated immigration like a third-rail issue, afraid of it, mum on it too often, slow to make changes.” According to Castro, many people have lost their patience with the administration’s approach to refugees.
The Department of Homeland Security reacted to the images for the first time on Monday, and wrote on its official Twitter account that it is investigating the officers involved, saying that it takes allegations of abuse against migrants very seriously. The department stated that “The footage is extremely troubling and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.” On Monday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the images “horrific,” but reiterated that she still did not have information on the details of the case and would therefore avoid taking a position on the matter.
Vice President Kamala Harris reacted to the images on Tuesday and repeated that they were “horrible,” saying that “human beings should never be treated that way.” She added that she was upset by what had occurred, and that she would speak about it with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. During a White House press briefing on Tuesday evening, Psaki said the president believes these images do not show who the U.S. is as a country, and that the administration is awaiting the results of the investigation.
Last week, a federal judge questioned the public health order that the administration is citing to justify the expulsion of migrants, giving the administration two weeks to rescind it. However, the Biden administration appealed this ruling on Monday. The Trump administration was fundamentally opposed to undocumented immigration, and pursuant to this policy, enacted widespread changes in the nation’s immigration laws, including drastically lowering the number of refugees admitted to the country. Since taking office, Biden has canceled many of the previous administration’s policies, but has not revoked this public health order. As a result, the U.S., which is facing a considerable increase in the number of people flooding its borders, has turned to U.S. Border Patrol agents to implement an intense pushback with respect to the migrants. The Associated Press reported that so far, more than 6,000 migrants from Haiti and other countries have been forced from where they have gathered on the outskirts of Del Rio, Texas. The report also stated that if this activity continues, the number of people sheltered there will significantly decrease over the next two to four days. Biden, whose immigration policy has been severely criticized both by Democrats and Republicans, asked the global community for solidarity in defending human rights and fighting injustice around the world during a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations on Tuesday.
The same day, The New York Times quoted an informed government official on the subject who said that since Sunday, the Biden administration had flown more than 1,000 migrants back to Haiti. According to the source, the administration plans to organize seven flights daily from Texas to Haiti beginning on Wednesday to return the migrants, with each flight carrying an average of 135 people.
Congressional Democrats’ Opposition to Biden
The Biden administration’s immigration policy faces serious opposition in Congress. On Tuesday Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an end to this behavior in a discussion with reporters. “I urge President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to immediately put a stop to these expulsions and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border. We cannot continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws,” Schumer said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she is closely monitoring these “heartbreaking” recent events. In an announcement, she specified that “all migrants seeking asylum must be treated in accordance with the law and with basic decency. Any acts of aggression or violence cannot be tolerated and must be investigated.”
The leaders of several nongovernmental and civic organizations have also reacted negatively to these events, writing to Biden that “White (and white-presenting) men on horseback with lariats are seen chasing, yelling and cursing at vulnerable Black asylum seekers who have for weeks and months been fleeing toward what they thought was safety. The actions of these Border Patrol officers are disgraceful and show an indifference to the humanity of Black migrants.”
UN: The American Government’s Actions Violate International Law
The United Nations finally reacted to these events yesterday. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement that “I was shocked by images of the deplorable conditions beneath the concrete highway overpass in Del Rio, Texas, where more than 14,000 Haitians had gathered after arduous journeys from a number of countries in the Americas,” adding that “the summary, mass expulsions of individuals currently under way under the Title 42 authority, without screening for protection needs, is inconsistent with international norms and may constitute refoulement.” Grandi called on the U.S. government to immediately and fully lift restrictions that make presenting a request for refugee status difficult for most migrants arriving at the southern border. There are currently around 8,600 migrants gathered under the international bridge of Del Rio, awaiting a response on their cases by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The published images from this location show law enforcement officers pushing these migrants into camps.