North America

U.S. border officials under fire over treatment of Haitian migrants

Published : September 21, 2021 18:39 IST

Mounted officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection attempt to contain migrants crossing a river between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas. Photo: Felix Marquez/AP/picture alliance

There has been widespread anger over the use of horse reins to threaten Haitian migrants near a riverside camp in Texas.

The White House has slammed the use of whip-like horse reins to threaten migrants from Haiti after images showed U.S. border guards on horseback attempting to contain migrants at a riverside camp near the country's border with Mexico.

Mounted officers were seen blocking the paths of migrants who have been crossing the border to buy essential supplies like food and water from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, after facing shortages at the sprawling camp in Del Rio, Texas. In one case, an officer unfurled a cord and swung it near a migrant's face. Some likened the image to the historical injustices suffered by Black people in the U.S.

"I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "I don't have the full context. I can't imagine what context would make that appropriate." Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised a full investigation "to ensure that the situation is as we understand it to be."

Uncertain future for Haitians

More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from the Del Rio camp in recent days, U.S. officials said on September 20. Haiti expected six flights on September 21, while reports said seven expulsion flights were scheduled for September 22 — four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien. While calling it a "challenging and heartbreaking situation," Mayorkas said: "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."

But for most Haitian migrants, going back is not an option. As temperatures soared to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), they made their way through the river to get bags of ice and essential supplies from the Mexican side. "They can't send us back to Haiti because everyone knows what Haiti is like right now," said Wildly Jeanmary, standing on the Mexican side of the river. He cited the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise and political strife as reasons. Last month, Haiti was also hit by a major earthquake.

Biden administration to accept more refugees

Amidst mounting criticism of the government’s handling of migration issues, President Joe Biden's administration announced that it would raise its cap to take in 125,000 refugees and their families next year.

"The United States is committed to leading efforts to provide protection and promote durable solutions to humanitarian crises, to include providing resettlement for the most vulnerable," the State Department said in a report released on September 20. The administration said the focus would be on some key groups, which included Central Americans, Afghans with affiliations to the U.S., LGBTQ refugees and Uyghur Muslims from China.

The previous administration under former President Donald Trump had reduced the cap to 15,000 refugees, the lowest number since the 1980 Refugee Act. While the Biden administration under pressure raised the number to 62,500, the U.S. is set to fall short of that target by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

see/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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