The Department of Homeland Security said it is investigating footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback confronting migrants trying to enter the United States as the department executes its plan to deal with thousands of largely Haitian refugees gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who visited Del Rio on Monday, told CNN this morning that officials had moved “perhaps more than 4,000 migrants from under that bridge already” and that they are moving more migrants “very quickly to other processing centers so that we can ensure their security and safety and the security and safety of the community.”
“We expect to see dramatic change in the next 48 to 96 hours,” he added.
DHS announced Saturday that they were surging 400 agents to the area, coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard to move migrants to other processing locations, increasing the capacity of deportation flights, working with source and transit countries to take in the migrants, and increasing humanitarian aid for the waiting migrants including emergency medical technicians and portable toilets. Relevant agencies have been directed to work with the Haitian government on providing support to migrants returned to the country.
“The majority of migrants continue to be expelled under CDC’s Title 42 authority,” DHS said. “Those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to remain will be placed in expedited removal proceedings. DHS is conducting regular expulsion and removal flights to Haiti, Mexico, Ecuador, and Northern Triangle countries.”
Al-Jazeera and Reuters released video of agents aggressively interacting with migrants as they tried to stop them from entering the country at the bank of the Rio Grande. “I was horrified by what I saw,” said Mayorkas, who defended the use of horses by Border Patrol as they work in a challenging environment. “I’m going to let the investigation run its course. But the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly. That defies all of the values that we seek to instill in our people.”
On Friday, as the number of migrants at Del Rio continued to swell, CBP temporarily closed the port of entry and began re-routing traffic from Del Rio to Eagle Pass, 57 miles east. “This temporary closure and shift is necessary in order for CBP to respond to urgent safety and security needs presented by an influx of migrants into Del Rio and is effective immediately,” the agency said. “It will advance and protect national interests and help ensure the safety of the traveling public, commercial traffic, and CBP employees and facilities.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that the Defense Department received a request for transportation support from DHS and CBP. “Under this request, the department would provide contracted air transportation for Customs and Border Patrol on a reimbursable basis to temporarily supplement CBP efforts to move non-U.S. citizen migrants from Del Rio, Texas, to other domestic CBP processing facilities,” he said.
“And this support will conclude on or before October 20 of this year, and it can be provided with minimal risk to current DOD missions,” Kirby added. “I would just again highlight contracted air. We’re not talking about military aircraft right now, and on a reimbursable basis, and to be provided at minimal risk due to current DOD missions.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the crisis “a challenging situation,” adding that “it’s devastating to watch this footage” of the horseback Border Patrol agents.
“I think it’s important, though, for people to also know that what we’re trying to do is also protect people,” she told reporters Monday. “One, we’ve been conveying that this is not the time to come. We have been implementing Title 42. That’s not just about people in the United States, that’s also about protecting migrants who would come and come in mass groups and be in mass groups. We are also surging resources and taking a multipronged approach.”
“We’ve been working with the American Red Cross to bring in much-needed resources. We’ve worked with World Central Kitchen to bring in meals. And we have been expediting repatriation flights, both to a range of countries in South and Central America where people may have come from if they can be accepted back and some back to Haiti,” Psaki continued. “That is what our focus is on at this point in time. And our message continues to be, as you’ve heard Secretary Mayorkas convey, now is not the time to come for a range of reasons, including we don’t have the immigration system up and running in the way we want, including there is still a pandemic and Title 42 remains in place.”
“And these are the steps that we’re taking in part to protect the border communities, as well as the migrants themselves,” she added.
Asked by a reporter about photos and video showing Border Patrol agents on horseback “seemingly using whips” — confirmed in a separate press conference by Mayorkas to be long reins used to “ensure control of the horse” — Psaki said the footage was “horrible to watch” and she needed more information.
“I can’t imagine what the scenario is where that would be appropriate,” Psaki said. “I’m certainly not suggesting that, but we’ve just seen the footage earlier this morning.”
The White House has condemned a video of US Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian migrants.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 21, 2021
Mayorkas said DHS is “going to investigate the facts,” while Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would make sure there was not an “unacceptable” response by agents to a difficult operating environment.
DHS said in a statement that the department “does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously.”
“CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the matter and has alerted the DHS Office of Inspector General,” DHS continued. “In addition, @SecMayorkas has directed that personnel from the Office of Professional Responsibility be on site full-time to ensure that the responsibilities of DHS personnel are executed consistent with applicable policies and training and the Department’s values.”
“@SecMayorkas visited Del Rio today and witnessed the extraordinary work of DHS personnel. 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. We are committed to processing migrants in a safe, orderly, and humane way. We can and must do this in a way that ensures the safety and dignity of migrants.”
On Sept. 19, the DHS account tweeted, “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be removed. Please do not attempt the perilous journey.”