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DHS chief pushes back on claim whips used against Haitian migrants

Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas denied Monday that Border Patrol agents used whips to prevent Haitian migrants from crossing the Rio Grande to reach an encampment set up under a Texas bridge where thousands of other migrants have gathered.

Photos and video published Sunday appeared to show mounted Border Patrol agents using whips or lariats, as well as their horses, in an effort to keep migrants on the Mexico side of the river. A report in the El Paso Times newspaper described an agent who “swung his whip menacingly, charging his horse toward the men in the river.”

However, Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz told reporters in Del Rio, Texas Monday that they saw nothing obviously wrong with how the agents acted based on initial viewings of the images and footage. Mayorkas explained that agents use long reins — not whips — to control their horses, while Ortiz cited the difficulty in distinguishing migrants from smugglers as people move back and forth near the river.

Border Patrol agents preventing Haitian migants from entering an encampment near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.
Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Ortiz added he would investigate the agents’ actions to make sure nothing “unacceptable” took place. But by then, the images had caused outrage among left-wing Democratic lawmakers.

“It doesn’t matter if a Democrat or Republican is President, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention. This is a stain on our country.”

“This is so sick and @CBP will continue to commit human rights abuses if we don’t stop it now,” argued AOC’s fellow “Squad” member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). “Cracking a f—ing whip on Haitians fleeing hardship shows you that this system simply can’t be reformed.”

“Use of whips on refugees? Disturbing and unacceptable,” added Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “This must end immediately.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas denied that the agents were using whips on any migrants despite claims.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas denied that the agents were using whips on any migrants despite claims.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki described the footage as “horrible to watch” under questioning from NPR reporter Yamiche Alcindor before admitting that “I just have to get more information on it.”

Alcindor later asked: “Is it the President’s stance or the White House’s stance that whoever these border agents are, using what seems to be whips on migrants, that they would be fired or at least never be able to do that again?”

“Of course, they should never be able to do it again,” Psaki agreed. “I don’t know what the circumstances would be. It’s obviously horrific, the footage.

“I don’t have any more information on it, so let me venture to do that –,” the press secretary began before another reporter asked: “But why won’t you say ‘fired’?”

On Sunday, the US began rounding up migrants from under the bridge and flying them back to Haiti. Officials said Monday that more than 6,000 had been removed from the encampment.

“We’re achieving our goals; we’re getting there and getting to a point where we can manage the population here,” said Ortiz, who blamed the rapid surge on smugglers who spread misinformation. “We are already seeing it quickly diminish, and we’ll continue to see that over the coming days.”

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz claimed the agents didn't do anything inappropriate.
Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz claimed the agents didn’t do anything inappropriate.
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Mayorkas said the alleged whips were actually long reins used to control the horses.
Mayorkas said the alleged whips were actually long reins used to control the horses.
Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the Coast Guard, had been brought to Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio. He added 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 United States in decades.

The DHS head also said the US would increase the pace and capacity of flights to Haiti and other countries in the hemisphere. The Associated Press reported, citing an American official, that the US plans to begin seven expulsion flights daily on Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien. Flights will continue to depart from San Antonio, but authorities may add departures from El Paso as well.

With Post wires

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