Kamala Harris on expulsions at US border: ‘Human beings should never be treated that way’
Kamala Harris and Chuck Schumer have added their voices to criticism of the treatment of Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border who were corralled by US border patrol agents riding horses and allegedly wielding reins like whips.
Asked on Tuesday about footage of the incident, the vice-president said: “What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible.”
Harris said she supported investigations of the matter and intended to speak to the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.
“Human beings should never be treated that way,” she said. “And I’m deeply troubled about it.”
Thousands of Haitians encamped under and near a bridge in the town of Del Rio faced a ramped-up US exclusion effort on Tuesday, with six flights to their homeland. More than 6,000 migrants had been removed by Monday, officials said. On the other side of the border, Mexico had begun flights of its own.
Asked what the US should do about the migrants, Harris said: “Talk about a country that has just experienced so much tragedy, that it’s been about natural disasters, the head of state assassinated, and we really have to do a lot to recognize that as a member of the western hemisphere we’ve got to support some very basic needs that the people of Haiti have.”
In an interview on Tuesday with CNN Mayorkas said he too was “horrified” by the images. Some of the mounted agents used their horses to forcibly move and block the migrants, seeming to herd them like animals, and taunt them in at least one instance. “Any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant is unacceptable,” Mayorkas said. “The pictures that I’ve observed troubled me profoundly.”
However, that was a marked change from Monday when Mayorkas had conceded it was a “challenging and heartbreaking situation” but also issued a stark warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
The homeland security secretary and the border patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, said they would look into agents on horseback using what appeared to be long reins and their horses to push back migrants at the river between Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio.
The homeland security department called the footage “extremely troubling” and promised a full investigation that would “define the appropriate disciplinary actions”.
On Tuesday in Washington, Schumer addressed himself to Joe Biden.
“Images of Haitian migrants being hit with whips and other forms of physical violence is completely unacceptable,” the New York Democrat said. “This behavior must be addressed and you must promote accountability. The images turn your stomach. It must be stopped.”
Mayorkas has said 600 homeland security employees had been deployed to Del Rio and the defense department had been asked for help. He also said the US would increase the pace and capacity of flights. Schumer urged an end to such deportations.
“Such a decision defies common sense,” he said. “It also defies common decency.”
Some Haitians returned to Mexico. Others struggled to decide where to take their chances.
As night fell on Monday, Marie Pierre, 43, stood on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande with hundreds of others. She said border patrol agents separated her from her 19-year-old son in Texas and she didn’t know if he had been deported. She waited for a chance to charge her phone, hoping to get news from family in Florida.
“They told me he was an adult and couldn’t be with us,” she said.
Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said on Tuesday he had spoken with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken. Ebrard said most of the Haitians already had refugee status in Chile or Brazil.
“What they are asking for is to be allowed to pass freely through Mexico to the United States,” he said.
At the border, officials from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission walked among migrants, signing up those interested in applying for asylum. This year, more than 19,000 Haitians have opted to do so.
But Mexico has also begun flying and bussing migrants from the border to southern Mexico, according to two Mexican officials who spoke to the Associated Press.
The number of migrants at the Del Rio bridge peaked at 14,872 on Saturday, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council. The expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be removed without opportunity to seek asylum. Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.
Any Haitians not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and humanitarian protection. Families are released in the US because the government cannot generally hold children.
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers for several years, many having left after a devastating 2010 earthquake. Many make the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car, including through the Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Some at the Del Rio camp said the recent earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of the president, Jovenel Moïse, made them afraid to return.
“It’s not right,” said Jean Philipe Samus. “The Americans are grabbing Haitians and deporting everyone to Haiti. Haiti has no president, no jobs, there is nothing. In the earthquake a lot of people died. It’s not right over there, I’m going back to Mexico.”