Customs and Border Protection has launched a formal probe into agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips as they attempted to stop mostly Haitian migrants from stepping onto U.S. soil.
‘I was horrified by what I saw,’ Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN on Tuesday morning.
‘I’m going to let the investigation run its course,’ he added. ‘But the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly. That defies all of the values that we seek to instill in our people.’
A DHS spokesperson said the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility will ‘define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken’ against those found to have used whips when preventing asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. and rounding up others for deportation.
The probe comes after widespread condemnation of the ‘horrific’ and disturbing scenes emerged of the agents on horseback chasing after and rounding up migrants who were on foot. One in particular image garnered the most pushback when an agent unfurled a cord resembling a lariat and swung it near a migrant’s face.
Mayorkas directed the CBP office to have personnel on site ‘full-time to ensure that the responsibilities of DHS personnel are executed consistent with applicable policies and training and the department’s values.’
Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback began emerging on Sunday as the Department of Homeland Security ramped up deportation by restarting removal flights of Haitian migrants back to their homeland after these flights were paused by President Joe Biden in February.
Mostly Haitian migrants stand on the U.S. side of the bank of the Rio Grande River as they prepare to wade from Del Rio, Texas on Tuesday to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico to avoid deportation back to their homeland
Migrants hold personal items above their head as they wade back to Mexico after seeking asylum in the U.S.
CBP Office of Professional Responsibility is launching a probe into Border Patrol agents using what appears to be a whip or lasso while trying to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on CNN on Tuesday that he is ‘horrified’ by the images but will ‘let the investigation run its course’
Images of agents using whips on horses were captures as migrants attempted to return to their makeshift camp from Mexico, where they were buying supplies
Three planes full of Haitian migrants departed San Antonio on Sunday and landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which led to thousands making the trip back across the Rio Grande River on Monday from Del Rio, Texas.
In the last few weeks, about 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants set up camp near and under the Del Rio International Bridge on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico. They were using a dam of knee- and thigh-high water to trek back and forth across the border.
On Sunday, however, agents and officers on horseback started preventing migrants coming back to the camp from stepping foot back on U.S. soil. They were also rounding up the illegal immigrants to be put on flights back to their home country.
DHS also dispatched additional personnel to oversee future border patrol operations near the makeshift encampment after already sending 400 border agents and officers to the area to help quell the flow of migration into Del Rio.
The agents and officers were rounding up the mostly Haitian migrants for deportation flights or trying to prevent them from stepping foot back on U.S. soil as the government ramps up efforts to quell illegal immigration at the southern border
Migrants gather under a tent to register with local immigration officers on Tuesday after they were flown out of the makeshift encampment in Del Rio, Texas
Migrants began turning back from Del Rio and trekking back to Ciudad Acura, Mexico. Here a man walks across waist-high water in the Rio Grande River returning to Mexico to avoid deportation
Haitian Migrants wade across the water back to Mexico on Tuesday so they aren’t deported by the U.S. back to Haiti after several flights were sent back the past two days
The new goal from the agency is to get around seven removal flights out of the U.S. back to migrants’ homelands each day.
When asked Tuesday if the new scenes from the border amounts to a crisis, Mayorkas wouldn’t go that far, instead calling it a ‘heartbreaking situation’ and a ‘tremendous challenge.’
‘I, by no means, diminish the humane issue that it presents, but I want to be clear that we do have a plan to address it, respecting the needs of the individuals and we are executing on that plan,’ he said on CNN.
Mayorkas added that 4,000 or more migrants have already been moved from the bridge camp and previewed a ‘dramatic change’ in the situation ‘in the next 48 to 96 hours.’
The announcement of a formal investigation came after outrage ensued.
Mayorkas’ comments echoed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s when she called the images ‘horrific’.
‘I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it’s acceptable or appropriate,’ Psaki said at her press briefing on Monday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the reports ‘deeply troubling’, adding that Congress will continue to ‘closely monitor developments.’
‘All migrants seeking asylum must be treated in accordance with the law and with basic decency,’ the California Democrat wrote in a Monday evening statement.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the images ‘inhumane’ and called on the Biden administration to ‘stop Title 42 deportations’
Progressive squad members Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar slammed the use of whips, calling it ‘human rights abuses’ and claiming the U.S. has made immigration a crime
‘Any acts of aggression or violence cannot be tolerated and must be investigated. The situation facing Haitian migrants at the border is heartbreaking, and Congress will continue to closely monitor developments.’
Mayorkas issued a stern warning for Haitian nationals trying to enter the US on Monday after he became the first Biden administration official to visit the border in Del Rio.
‘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,’ he said.
The secretary said he’d brought in about 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the National Guard, to Del Rio to help with what he described as a ‘challenging and heartbreaking situation.’
He said that he has asked the Defense Department for help in what may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the U.S. in decades.