U.S. authorities said on Monday that they would investigate reports that border patrol officers on horseback may have abused Haitian migrants in Texas. Pictures widely shared on social media show the mounted officers using their reins against the migrants and pushing them back towards the Rio Grande in Texas.
AFP photographer Paul Ratje said many of the Haitians were crossing the river back and forth to get food for their families but were blocked by the horses. “Some of the migrants started running to try to get around the horsemen, and one of the agents grabbed the Haitian in the picture by the shirt and he ended up swinging him around while the horse trotted in a circle,” Ratje said of one photograph.
He said he did not think the man had been hurt. Moments after, Ratje said they “kind of calmed down, and they started letting people in”.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday that the officers were trying to manage the flow of migrants crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico near Del Rio, Texas. About 13,000 mainly Haitian migrants are camped under a bridge connecting Del Rio to Mexico’s Ciudad Acuña on the US-Mexico border, according to BBC.
“We are going to investigate the facts to ensure that the situation is as we understand it to be,” Mayorkas told reporters.
“If it’s anything different, we will respond accordingly,” said Mayorkas.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she had seen the footage, adding that “It’s horrible to watch.”
“I have seen some of the footage. I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate. But I don’t have additional details and certainly, I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”
Some social media users said the pictures were almost similar to violent incidents witnessed during slavery in the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Monday “about cooperation to repatriate Haitian migrants on the southern border of the United States,” the State Department said, according to AFP. Mayorkas said it was prudent to return the migrants to Haiti, despite the political storm in the country and problems of poverty and inequality.
“We made an assessment based on the country conditions, as we are required to do, that… Haiti could in fact receive individuals safely,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas said Haitian migrants have been wrongly told that they will be able to stay in the United States as refugees under “temporary protected status” (TPS) amid the political chaos in the country. “We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open, or that temporary protected status is available,” Mayorkas said.
“We have reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey,” he said.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned.”
After the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, TPS was announced for Haitians who were stuck in the United States. And following the assassination of Haiti President Jovenel Moise on July 7, the Biden administration extended TPS for Haitians who were in the country on or before July 29.
“No one who arrived this past week will be eligible to get TPS,” Mayorkas emphasized.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, which is monitoring the situation, said it was crucial for people fearing persecution to have access to asylum, Reuters reported.