Harris condemns Border Patrol chasing Haitians on horseback: ‘Human beings should never be treated like that’

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas  (PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images)
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas (PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Kamala Harris is the latest White House official to condemn images coming out of Del Rio, Texas, where US Border Patrol agents were captured harshly rounding up Haitian migrants on horseback in tactics compared to America’s dark history of slave patrols.

“What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback, treating human beings the way they were was horrible,” the vice-president told reporters on Tuesday. “I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into what is going on there, but human beings should never be treated that way, and I’m deeply troubled about it.”

She added that she would be in touch Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it acceptable or appropriate,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. “It’s horrible to watch.”

Despite the condemnation, the Biden administration has continued deporting the more than 12,000 Haitians assembled at the border en masse under Title 42, a Trump-era immigration rule that largely shut down the border to asylum seekers. It has also ramped up flights to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, though the country is struggling with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake this summer and the assassination of its president.

President Biden, who campaigned on a more humane approach to immigration than the deeply anti-immigration Donald Trump, has come in for criticism from migration advocates and progressives within his own party.

“That ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] would continue to carry out the mass deportations of our Haitian neighbours — with Haiti in the midst of its worst political, public health and economic crises yet — is cruel and callous,” Democratic US representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said of the situation on Friday.

In May, recognising the fragile state of the country, the Biden administration extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians already in the US, pausing deportations for the next 18 months.

“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement at the time.

“After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home.”

Still, the administration has continued using Title 42 to expel most of those massed in Del Rio, denying them the legally protected right to seek asylum.

Last week, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the policy was illegal as it applied to families, though the decision won’t take effect for two weeks, and the Biden administration plans to appeal.

“The Biden administration claims it wants to distance itself from the Trump administration’s inhumane asylum policies,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told The Associated Press. “Yet it has retained the most extreme of all the policies, the Title 42 policy that is literally sending families into the hands of persecutors and cartels.”

Trump administration Stephen Miller, the architect of many of the administration’s most anti-immigration policies, had been pushing for Title 42 even before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

Then, once Covid-19 did begin, the Trump administration overruled public health officials who said shutting the border to asylum-seekers — and most other immigrants — wouldn’t service any medical benefit, and instituted the policy anyway.

Since then, the two administrations have used the policy to expel hundreds of thousands of people before they can claim their rights.

As of August, the US was on pace to admit a historically low number of refugees, even fewer than the record lows seen in the Trump administration. The Biden administration has since committed to raising the annual refugee cap to 125,000, after facing intense criticism for initially not choosing to raise that figure from Trump levels.