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Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday expressed outrage at how Border Patrol agents on horseback confronted Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the situation brought to mind how such tactics have been "used against the Indigenous people of our country, [have] been used against African Americans during times of slavery."
"Human beings should not be treated that way," Harris said, referring to video and photographs that captured agents in Del Rio, Texas, charging at migrants and appearing to use horse reins as whips.
The vice president added that she supported the Department of Homeland Security's internal investigation into the matter. There "needs to be consequences and accountability," said Harris, who early this week criticized the agents' behavior as “horrible" and deeply troubling.
The White House this week has faced criticism for its response to an encampment of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants at the southern border. Advocates and Democrats have been particularly vocal in condemning photos and videos that emerged earlier this week that appeared to show Border Patrol agents on horseback waving or whipping reins at migrants or in the air as they crossed the Rio Grande.
Harris' criticism came during an interview on "The View" that was disrupted after co-hosts Sunny Hostin and Ana Navarro tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be escorted off set just before Harris was set to arrive. Harris' in-person interview quickly turned into a remote one via video link with Joy Behar and Sara Haines. During the brief interview, Harris discussed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, abortion rights and a $1.2-billion initiative that would give 2 million children access and affordability to broadband internet.
Harris also touted the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. (Hostin and Navarro appear to have been inoculated and have what are known as "breakthrough" cases.)
"The vaccine is free, it is safe and it will save your life," Harris said. "Folks just need to get vaccinated."
Harris' promotion of inoculation came the same morning President Biden touted the benefits of booster shots as a potent tool in curbing the spread of COVID-19. “We have the tools to beat COVID-19 if we come together as a country and use the tools that we have,” he said at the White House.
Biden spoke a day after federal health officials approved the first round of booster shots of Pfizer's vaccine to prevent coronavirus infections. Those approved to get such boosters are the elderly, those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and people at risk because of their jobs, such as healthcare workers and grocery store employees.
In response to a reporter's question, Biden also addressed the controversy in Del Rio, describing the actions of the agents on horseback as being "beyond an embarrassment."
"It’s dangerous. It’s wrong," Biden said. "It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
The administration on Thursday suspended the use of horses in Del Rio, a gesture that did little to quell calls by Democrats and immigration advocates that the administration halt expulsions of Haitians who had sought shelter in Del Rio. Last week, as many as 15,000 migrants (most of them Haitians) were living in an encampment under a Del Rio bridge, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Friday during a White House briefing.
After a week spent transferring migrants to processing centers and putting them on flights back to Haiti, Mayorkas said, "as of this morning there are no longer any migrants" in the camp.
Advocates, however, have expressed alarm that the U.S. government is returning Haitian migrants, many of whom have been living in South America for years, to their homeland, which was recently rocked by an earthquake and is enduring social and political unrest.
Republicans have also criticized the administration, insisting the situation at the border is a direct result of Biden's immigration policies.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday acknowledged that the immigration process was "broken," "ineffective" and "not moral in many cases." It was time, she said, for Congress to pass legislation to reform the system.
"There are a lot of Republicans out there giving speeches about how outraged they are about the situation at the border, not many who are putting forward solutions for steps that we can take," Psaki said. "We'd like to partner [with Republicans] on solutions and working together to address this problem that has not been partisan in the past."
Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, on Thursday, resigned over the "inhumane” expulsions of Haitian migrants to "a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life," he wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
On Wednesday, domestic policy advisor Susan Rice, senior advisor Cedric Richmond and other officials met with nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the situation. Administration officials on Thursday also spoke with civil and human rights leaders who sent Biden a letter that criticized the administration's border policies for inflicting “cruelty on Black, Brown and Indigenous immigrant communities."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.