President Biden vowed Friday that Border Patrol agents who mistreated Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande would “pay” after an investigation, calling the scene at the border “horrible to see” as his administration moved to forcefully round up and deport more than 2,000 of the 15,000 migrants who had gathered in a makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas.
“It’s outrageous,” Mr. Biden said in his first comments on photos of Border Patrol agents on horseback waving their reins while pushing migrants back into the Rio Grande, which have drawn condemnation from many of his own supporters. “I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation, underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences.”
In a briefing with reporters at the White House on Friday, Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, called the photos “horrifying” and said that they “painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism.” He said that the agents had been reassigned pending an investigation, but did not say whether the horse patrol units would be suspended altogether.
“This investigation will be based upon the facts,” Mr. Mayorkas said, apparently conflicting with Mr. Biden’s vow that the agents would be punished.
Mr. Mayorkas called the situation an “unprecedented movement of a very large number of people traveling to a single point of the border within a matter of a few days.” He also said that the Del Rio camp had been cleared.
The federal government is using a public health law known as Title 42 to expel most of the migrants, citing a public health concern, and has sent some 17 flights to Haiti carrying some 2,000 people, Mr. Mayorkas said. Thousands more migrants have been moved to other parts of the country or have been released with orders to appear in court later.
Critics, including some within the Biden administration, have called the tactics racist and have urged the president to stop flying the Haitians out of the country. In an appearance on “The View” on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris likened the images to slavery: “Human beings should not be treated that way,” she said.
But she avoided a question about whether the administration would halt all deportations of Haitians at the Texas border and allow them to apply for asylum.
“We have to do more in supporting Haitians who are returning to the island, returning to Haiti,” Ms. Harris said. “We have got to do more to support Haiti in terms of its needs to get back up and recover, in terms of the natural disasters.”
In his remarks Friday, Mr. Biden did not address the broader question of how his administration was dealing with the migrants. But he condemned the way border agents had treated them.
“It’s an embarrassment,” he said. “But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous, it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
The investigation that Mr. Biden mentioned is being carried out by top officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection.
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