Up to 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, over the weekend crowded into a makeshift camp under the international bridge linking Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, and Del Rio, US, a remote Texas town of 36,000 people overwhelmed by the situation.
After days of tension, Border Patrol agents on horseback violently suppressed on camera further attempts to cross the river. The images suggest that they used whips and bridles against the migrants in a tragic round-up to prevent families fleeing America’s poorest country from setting foot on US soil. Some were carrying children in their arms.
“The images from Monday are horrifying,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said they are very concerned that Haitians are taking this irregular migration path.
The director of the Human Rights Watch, Alison Parker, said that “the US government showed total disregard for the right to seek asylum when it sent agents on horseback with reins waving to control and deter this largely black migrant population”.
“This violent treatment of Haitians at the border is just the latest example of discriminatory, abusive and illegal US border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster,” he added.
The Border Patrol’s brutality towards Haitian migrants severely tarnishes the current White House’s promises of change in dealing with irregular immigration, in contrast to the unprecedented cruelty of its predecessors. The US continues to portray itself as a hostile country. Washington’s indignation is not enough. The Border Patrol is a federal body. They can no longer blame the Republicans. The announced investigation of the facts must lead to reform of a police force that operates with an unacceptable margin of discretion and lack of oversight.
Expressions of condemnation have not translated into compassion for Haitians. The US has begun deportation flights from Texas to Haiti, a country that offers nothing but misery and violence. As of Tuesday, 523 migrants had been deported by plane and authorities have confirmed that more flights will follow. These hot returns before migrants apply for asylum are done through a legal excuse introduced by Donald Trump that, in the wake of the pandemic, allows for border rejections due to health risks. Biden continues to use it.
Nearly 14,000 Haitian migrants may be deported to their country in the next three weeks. But deporting families to a country like Haiti “defies common sense and decency”, Democrat Chuck Schumer rightly criticised. The legitimate goal of deterring irregular immigration cannot be pursued by punishing those who arrive at the end of the journey.
This will not be the last humanitarian crisis on a border that knows no presidents. It is not even the first to involve Haitians. Border cities in northern and southern Mexico are turning into open-air prisons.