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Homeland Security Investigating After Images of Haitian Migrants at Border

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Border Patrol agents came under fire this week after photos and video of their response to migrants seeking to cross into the United States showed harsh tactics, prompting rebuke from as high up as the White House and promises of accountability.

The incidents occurred in Del Rio, Texas, where a group of mostly Haitian immigrants has attempted to gain access into the United States. Dramatic photos appeared to show Border Patrol personnel on horseback forcefully using their reins to push back migrants crossing the Rio Grande.

Customs and Border Protection said this week it will send 400 agents and officers to the area to “improve control” of the thousands of migrants who have taken shelter there. The agency vowed to move quickly to remove the individuals and send them back to Haiti and other countries. Most of the migrants are being processed quickly under special authority invoked as part of the COVID-19 response that has limited access into the United States.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that while the video was “horrible to watch,” the administration would have to probe what led to the agents’ actions.

“I have seen some of the footage,” Psaki said. She explained that she did not “have the full context,” but added, “I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate.”

The Homeland Security Department followed that with an announcement that Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had ordered the Office of Professional Responsibility to review the conduct and to be on site in Del Rio to ensure Border Patrol agents were acting properly. The DHS inspector general has also been “alerted” to the situation.

“The Department of Homeland Security does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously,” a spokesperson said. “The footage is extremely troubling and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.”

Mayorkas told CNN on Tuesday he was “horrified” by the images and that they “troubled me profoundly.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., was quick to call for disciplinary action, saying the agents’ behavior “cannot be tolerated.”

“Video and photos coming out of Del Rio showing U.S. Border Patrol’s mistreatment of Haitian migrants along the border are horrific and disturbing,” Thompson said. “I call on Secretary Mayorkas to take immediate action to hold those responsible accountable and ensure that all migrants are treated in accordance with the law and basic decency, as this administration has promised to do since day one.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on Homeland Security, praised Mayorkas for announcing a “quick and thorough” investigation.

“Even in the context of border security, CBP must make migrant safety a top priority, and any acts of aggression or violence against migrants must not be tolerated,” Roybal-Allard said.

Mayorkas traveled to Del Rio on Monday, where he told reporters that migrants trying to enter the United States there would not be successful. He also noted DHS is providing humanitarian aid to the thousands of Haitians and others in the area, including water, towels and portable toilets.