Reacting to images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande, President Joe Biden on Friday made an ominous, if cryptic, threat that “those people will pay.”
The migrants seen in photographs that have since gone viral were attempting to return to a camp near the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants gathered on the U.S. side of the river.
Video from the scene showed an agent whirling his horse’s long reins as he tried to block a man from illegally entering the United States, which some Democrats and others have characterized as agents whipping Haitians.
A reporter asked the president during a briefing at the White House whether he took responsibility for the “chaos that’s unfolding” on the border.
“Of course I take responsibility,” Biden responded. “I’m president. But it was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous.
“I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences.
“It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous; it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
The agents involved have since been moved to administrative duty, and the Biden administration has prohibited Border Patrol agents from using horses in the Del Rio sector.
The Border Patrol uses horses to traverse terrain that is otherwise inaccessible by other means of transportation.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas indicated his department would look into the situation.
“To ensure control of the horse, long reins are used but we are going to 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,” he said Monday, according to NBC News.
By Tuesday, Mayorkas’ stance had become more critical.
“I was horrified by what I saw,” he told CNN. “I’m going to let the investigation run its course. But the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly. That defies all of the values we seek to instill in our people.”
Mayorkas’ shift in tone — and the Biden administration’s overall approach to the controversy — appears to be the result of Democratic outrage over images some lawmakers have falsely claimed show agents using whips to stop Haitian migrants from getting into the United States.
“Absolutely unacceptable,” Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas said on Twitter. “No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country.”
No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country.
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) September 20, 2021
Rep. Maxine Waters took the opportunity to insert race into the equation.
“What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years,” the California Democrat said Wednesday during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol, according to Fox News. “What we witnessed was worse than what we witnessed in slavery … cowboys with their reins, again, whipping black people.”
This incident is but the latest immigration-related headache for an administration already dealing with a porous southern border that has seen the highest number of migrant encounters there in some 20 years.
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