Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as ’embarrassment’

President Biden on Friday decried the scene of border agents chasing Haitian migrants at the southern border as un-American and vowed to punish those responsible.

“To see people treated like they did, horses barely running them over and people being strapped. It was outrageous. I promise those people will pay,” Biden said after a reporter asked if he took responsibility for the situation at the border, which he answered that he did.

Biden noted that the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the situation and emphasized “there will be consequences.”

“It’s an embarrassment. It’s beyond an embarrassment. It’s dangerous, it’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world or sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are,” Biden continued.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters that Biden was having a “human and visceral response” to the images of Haitian migrants and insisted he was not prejudging the outcome of the investigation.

“The president was not prejudging the outcome of the investigation,” Psaki said. “The president was responding from his heart.”

Images of Haitians seemingly being rounded up by riders on horseback, who at times appeared to use their reins in an aggressive manner, have drawn a swell of criticism toward the Biden administration’s handling of the issue.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years. What we witnessed was worse than what we witnessed in slavery.”

The remarks, which Biden made at the White House after concluding a speech on the administration’s coronavirus response, represented his most extensive comments on the influx of Haitian migrants at the southern border to date. Biden has been almost entirely silent on the topic this week, but the White House has denounced the images of Customs and Border Protection agents chasing migrants as horrifying.

The White House has also faced criticism for continuing its deportation of Haitian migrants. The White House has defended the policy and insisted the administration is working to implement an “orderly and humane process” at the border. 

“Our policy process has continued to be the same with Haiti as it is for anybody coming through an irregular migration across our border,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

Many Haitian migrants are being expelled under Title 42, an authority used since the Trump administration to expel migrants during the pandemic without allowing them to apply for asylum.

Several Democrats have pleaded with the administration to pause the repatriation of Haitian migrants citing the trio of crises facing the Haitian people. The Haitian prime minister was assassinated earlier this year, over 2,000 were killed in a recent earthquake and the country has struggled under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a sign of discord within the Biden administration over its approach to the situation, the special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned from his position this week, citing his refusal to be associated with the “inhuman treatment” of Haitian migrants.

Foote in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Haiti was in no position to accept the returning Haitians because the country is “mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnapping, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government.” 

The State Department has refuted Foote’s assertions that his policy recommendations were ignored and said that some of his recommendations “were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process.”

DHS has suspended the use of horse patrols in Del Rio, Texas. The investigation into border agents’ treatment of migrants, which is being spearheaded by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, is expected to be concluded next week. The agents involved have also been placed on administrative leave.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the results of the investigation “will be compelled by the facts that are adduced and nothing less.”

“The department does not tolerate any mistreatment of any migrant and will not tolerate any violation of its values, principles and ethics,” he said. 

Updated 4:20 p.m.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Haiti Immigration Jen Psaki Joe Biden Maxine Waters Texas

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