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White House calls video of border agents chasing Haitian migrants 'horrific,' DHS promises to investigate

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WASHINGTON – Video of U.S. border agents chasing Haitian migrants on horseback stirred outrage Monday, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the images "horrific" and Democratic lawmakers demanding accountability.

The Department of Homeland Security promised in a statement to investigate the matter.

The images show U.S. border agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants near the Rio Grande close to Del Rio, Texas. In one photo, a border patrol agent leans over his saddle to grab the shirt of a man trying to get away. In several photos, the migrants are carrying plastic bags and bundles of their possessions in their hands.

As the Haitians tried to climb onto the U.S. side of the river Sunday afternoon, an agent shouted: "Let's go! Get out now! Back to Mexico!"

The agent waved the reins of the horse in air while charging toward the men in the river.

"I've 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," Psaki said.

U.S. Border Patrol agents deter Haitians from returning to the U.S. on the bank of the Rio Grande after migrants crossed back to Mexico for food and water on Sept. 19, 2021.
U.S. Border Patrol agents deter Haitians from returning to the U.S. on the bank of the Rio Grande after migrants crossed back to Mexico for food and water on Sept. 19, 2021.

Pressed on whether border patrol agents should be fired or allowed to do it again, she said: "Of course they should never be able to do it again," Psaki said, adding that it was "obviously horrific" footage.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said the border patrol agents' actions were "human rights abuses, plain and simple. Cruel, inhumane, and a violation of domestic and international law."

"This needs a course correction and the issuance of a clear directive on how to humanely process asylums seekers at our border," Omar wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said the border patrol agents' actions were "absolutely unacceptable."

"No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country," Escobar tweeted.

A camp of over 10,000 migrants who crossed the Rio Grande at a low point between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico and Del Rio, Texas, have been waiting beneath the international bridge in Del Rio to open an asylum claim. U.S. and Mexican officials warned Sunday that those in the camp would be deported back to Haiti.

Horace Campbell, professor of African American Studies and Political Science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University called the expulsion of Haitians "inhumane" and "criminal."

“The economic conditions in Haiti since 2010 have been unspeakable," said Campbell, referring to a 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation.

More recently, the country has seen a presidential assassination and another powerful earthquake just this year, leaving the nation's economy and government in dire conditions.

"What the United States government is doing is unspeakable given the crisis in Haiti …. as one person said, it amounts to something being criminal,” Campbell added.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 19, 2021.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 19, 2021.

Read more: Haitian migrants face tough choices in Del Rio amid crackdown at Texas-Mexico border

A use of force policy document from CBP dated January 2021 says that, "The use of excessive force by CBP law enforcement personnel is strictly prohibited." But the document also says that agents "may use 'objectively reasonable' force only when it is necessary to carry out their law enforcement duties," adding that the "reasonableness" of any particular situation varies with the conditions.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters that CBP is coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard to move migrants to other processing locations for removal. The agency has moved approximately 3,500 migrants "over the last few days and 3,000 today," he said.

"We are in the midst of a pandemic and a critical migration challenge," Mayorkas said. "We continue to exercise the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention's) title 42 authority."

Title 42 allows CBP to expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is "not an immigration authority, but a public health authority," Mayorkas said.

Campbell vehemently disagreed with the deportation of Haitian migrants.

“This is just perpetuating white racist stigma against the people of Haiti. And these people did not come from Haiti," said Campbell.

Contributing: Rebecca Morin; Martha Pskowski, El Paso Times

Reach out to Chelsey Cox on Twitter at @therealco.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House: 'Horrific' to see horseback CPB agents chasing Haitians

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