Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers Tuesday he was “horrified” by images of Border Patrol agents on horseback confronting Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande, but said he would let an investigation reveal what happened.
“We look forward to learning the facts. We do not tolerate any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant. Period,” he told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Photos and videos released this week show horse-mounted border agents seemingly using the ends of their reins to control a crowd of Haitians gathered along the U.S.-Mexico border near an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas. The images have sparked outrage among Democratic lawmakers and vows to hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the images “horrible” and said she supported a full investigation.
“Human beings should never be treated that way, and I'm deeply troubled about it,” she said Tuesday, adding she planned to speak with Mayorkas later.
During his visit to Del Rio a day earlier, Mayorkas said the Border Patrol chief explained his horse-mounted agents carried “long reins” used to help control their animals — and not whips as some accounts reported. He told reporters at the site that department officials would “investigate the facts to ensure that the situation is as we understand it to be. And if it’s anything different, we will respond accordingly.”
DHS said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the situation and has notified the department’s inspector general’s office.
“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,” DHS said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., decried the accounts early Tuesday.
“The images of inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants by Border Patrol … are unacceptable,” he said on Twitter. “They are fleeing violence and natural disaster and seeking protection in our country.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the situation “heartbreaking,” and promised, “Congress will continue to closely monitor developments.”
The gathering of thousands of migrants, primarily from Haiti, under the Del Rio bridge has prompted DHS to deploy additional resources to the area and arrange multiple deportation flights.
The arrival of Haitian migrants comes during a historically high period of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP reported more than 156,000 unique migrant encounters along the border in the month of August and more than 208,000 total encounters.
In all of fiscal 2021, CBP has recorded more than 1 million unique encounters with migrants, compared to just over 850,000 during the same period in fiscal 2019.
Immigrant advocates said the images were a blow to hopes that the Biden administration would improve upon what critics saw as inhumane treatment of migrants under former President Donald Trump.
“We came to expect cruelty under the Trump Administration,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a statement. “We expect much better from the Biden Administration.”
Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.