The White House described the scenes as “horrific”.
Videos and photos of several US border agents on horseback chasing and attacking migrants with an alleged whip near the Rio Grande, in an area on the border with the small town of Del Rio, in the US state of Texas, have sparked controversy in the country.
The scenes took place in the midst of a new border migration crisis, which has led to up to 12,000 migrants – mostly Haitians – being held in a makeshift camp under a bridge linking del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, last week.
“To prevent injuries from heat-related illnesses, the shaded area under the Del Rio International Bridge is being used as a temporary stopping place as migrants await transfer to US Border Patrol,” the agency said last week through a statement. Face criticism of the precarious situation of immigrants.
The US government began deporting hundreds of them on Sunday and closed the Del Rio border crossing, prompting hundreds of other Haitians to return to the Mexican side in the face of uncertainty.
Since they settled under the bridge, some of the migrants crossed into Mexico to buy food and water for themselves and their families, which was scarce on the American side, and returned to the makeshift camp.
Photographer Paul Ratje of Agence France-Presse recorded the photo near a boat moored on the river, in an area where migrants were trying to enter or return.
“I arrived at the scene and everyone was passing by,” the photographer told the Washington Post.
“Suddenly, some policemen came and started trying to get people to leave. Then the border agents came on horseback and started trying to get people to leave.”
In the photos, agents are seen carrying tools that some have described as “whips”, although authorities say they are “leashes” used to “ensure control of the horse”.
“There was a constant flow and (customers) were saying, ‘No, you can’t go in. Go back to Mexico.’ But people were saying ‘but my family is there’,” Ratji told The Washington Post.
In this context, an officer on horseback momentarily caught a man who appeared to be carrying bags of food.
But in the end, despite the patrol’s intervention, the migrants managed to cross the river and reach the camp, according to US media.
Border Patrol on horseback is not uncommon, given the geography of the terrain, among other reasons.
Border agents often urge migrants to return to Mexico, explained Nick Miroff, a Washington Post reporter who specializes in immigration.
“In this case, that request was not particularly successful, in part because the migrants were trying to return with food,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone who sees these images finds them acceptable or appropriate,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
“I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine the context that makes it appropriate.” “(Agents) should never be able to do this again.”
According to Saki, this is a “clearly horrific” record.
For her part, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar described the actions of the border guards as “human rights violations” and “cruel and inhumane and a violation of national and international laws.”
The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mallorcas, confirmed that the facts would be investigated, describing the migrants’ situation as “difficult and painful”.
But he issued a warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be sent back. Your flight will not be successful and will endanger your life and the lives of your family.”
On Monday afternoon, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying that the agency “does not tolerate abuse of immigrants.”
“The records are deeply troubling and the facts of a thorough investigation, which will be conducted quickly, will determine the appropriate disciplinary action that will be taken,” DHS said.
And Reuters news agency quoted US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz as saying that the incident was under investigation to make sure there was no “unacceptable” response from the police.
In addition, he added, agents were operating in a difficult environment, trying to ensure the safety of migrants while searching for potential smugglers.
A new frontier crisis
The situation poses a new political and humanitarian challenge for the government of President Joe Biden, which has vowed to be more “humane” with immigrants and asylum seekers than its Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
Despite the recent crises to hit Haiti – the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and the earthquake that devastated the country’s southwest – the vast majority of Haitians on the US border have left their country years ago, since the 2010 earthquake, according to BBC Monitoring, the BBC’s section that collects and analyzes News from the press around the world.
The earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation, killing 200,000 people and displacing thousands.
They have lived and worked in South America for some time, in countries such as Brazil or Chile.
Over the past two days, 560 Haitians have been sent back to Haiti. However, thousands remain in the Texas camp, EFE news agency reported.
Only on Monday (20/9), 233, 45 children and 45 women were deported. Almost all of the deported women had a baby or infant in their arms.
In addition to those already deported, more than 6,000 Haitians have been transferred to other immigration processing centers, according to US authorities, and are expected to be deported.
Under the border bridge in Del Rio, Texas, Haitians claim to have been mistreated by US border guards.
“They treated Haitians like thieves. Haitians are not thieves but people looking for a better life. They didn’t treat people from other countries that way. It’s racist,” a 30-year-old woman told EFE, confirming that he lived in Cape Haiti.
The Washington Post’s Miroff said the area under the bridge looks like “a small town, with its own nascent economy, often focused on food.”
The situation for the Brazilians is not much different. Last week, the Yuma Strip Border Patrol, which is responsible for the southeastern US state of Arizona, announced the arrest of 140 Brazilians.
“Border Guard officers detained a group of 140 Brazilian migrants this morning. So far this month, clients have encountered an average of more than 600 migrants per day, up more than 2,000% from last year,” wrote Chris Clem, Chief of the Border Patrol. From the daily sector patrol on his personal account on Twitter.
According to him, the group was monitored by operators of surveillance cameras. Then he surrendered to customers.
Data from the US Customs and Border Protection reveals that the number of Brazilians illegally crossing the US southern border has hit a record high over the past 10 months. From October 2020 to August of this year, 46,410 Brazilians were arrested – six times the similar period before.
In August alone, 9,098 attempted the crossing, the highest since the start of fiscal year 2021 (which runs from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021).
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