The Department of Homeland Security said it “does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody,” after footage showed U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback driving back Haitian migrants attempting to cross the border.
Footage published by Al-Jazeera Monday showed Border Patrol agents on horseback, using lariats to whip or threaten to whip Haitian refugees at a migrant camp near Del Rio, Texas.
In one scene, a Border Patrol officer tells a group of immigrants, “This is why your country’s shit,” while charging his horse towards a group and nearly hitting a child. The agents were trying to stop the migrants from re-entering the camp after they left to cross back into Mexico in order to get food, Al-Jazeera reported.
DHS said it would investigate the treatment of Haitian migrants by Border Patrol officers.
“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,” DHS said in a statement.
On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN that he was “horrified by what I saw” and that the images “troubled me profoundly.”
“One cannot weaponize a horse to aggressively attack a child. That is unacceptable,” Mayorkas said. “We will not tolerate mistreatment. And we will address it with full force based on the facts we learn.
Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said the images were “horrible.”
“Human beings should never be treated that way, and I was deeply troubled about it," she said.
Mayorkas visited the camp Monday, where nearly 15,000 people attempting to cross the border have arrived, according to the Washington Post. Mayorkas said DHS would send up to three deportation flights back to Haiti daily, the Post reported.
The images sparked outrage, particularly within President Joe Biden’s own party. Democrats spent the past several years criticizing the Trump administration’s treatment of families at the border, and the response from some lawmakers echoed those criticisms.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary said she’d seen the video and that she “can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate.”
On Tuesday, Psaki was more forceful, describing the footage as “horrific” and said “that’s not who the Biden-Harris administration is,” in an interview with CBS News.
Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, expressed horror at the footage and criticized the government’s handling of the refugees.
“It doesn’t matter if a Democrat or Republican is President, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said,. “Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention. This is a stain on our country.”
“These are human rights abuses, plain and simple,” Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted. (A United Nations spokesperson for human rights said the UN was “disturbed” by the images showing the treatment of migrants as well as the deportations back to Port-au-Prince.)
“We are still whipping black bodies in 2021,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman added. “Shame on us as a nation. For our inhumanity.”
Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the footage “horrific and disturbing.”
“This mistreatment runs counter to our American values and cannot be tolerated,” Thompson said in a statement. “I call on Secretary Mayorkas to take immediate action to hold those responsible accountable and ensure that all migrants are treated in accordance with the law and basic decency, as this Administration has promised to do since day one.”