US clears encampment of Haitian migrants in Texas

Homeland Security chief says about 12,400 migrants were allowed to seek asylum, and another 2,000 were sent back to Haiti

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a press briefing Friday at the White House. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a press briefing Friday at the White House. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Posted September 24, 2021 at 5:22pm

There are no more migrants crowded under the Del Rio bridge in South Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday, days after viral images of Border Patrol agents using reins against Haitian asylum-seekers drew widespread condemnation.

“As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio international bridge,” Mayorkas said, referring to the Texas border crossing that has seen what he described as an unprecedented level of migration in recent weeks.

Nearly 30,000 migrants have been encountered at the Del Rio sector along the border since Sept. 9, with the highest number of people held at one time reaching roughly 15,000, Mayorkas told reporters during a White House briefing.

Most of the arriving migrants were originally from Haiti, the Caribbean nation that recently suffered a series of natural disasters as well as political upheaval following the assassination of the Haitian president.

“It is unprecedented for us to see that number of people arrive at one discrete point in the border in such a compacted period of time. That is unprecedented,” Mayorkas said.

Approximately 12,400 of those individuals have been allowed to pursue immigration cases from within the U.S., Mayorkas said — a data point congressional Republicans requested during a pair of hearings earlier this week.

Roughly 8,000 migrants decided to return to Mexico voluntarily, while another approximately 2,000 were sent back to Haiti under a public health directive known as Title 42 that allows border agents to “expel” migrants without hearing their claims for protection. Around 5,000 others are still being processed, Mayorkas said.

His remarks came days after images of Border Patrol agents on horseback holding back Haitian migrants with the reins went viral, prompting outcry across the country and among Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Mayorkas called those images “horrifying.”

“We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism,” he said.

However, he stressed that the government’s current investigation into the conduct “will be based on the facts that the investigators learn.” Mayorkas promised to make results of that investigation public.

Reporters pressed Mayorkas on how his comments calling to reserve judgement until the probe’s conclusion could be in tension with remarks President Joe Biden made earlier Friday, when the president pledged “there will be consequences” for the agents’ actions.

“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,” Biden said. “I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences.”

Mayorkas said that Biden “was echoing the sentiments of the American public in response to the images” and spoke to “the horror that he observed from seeing the images, and what they suggest.”

“That investigation will have integrity, I can assure you of that,” he said.

The Biden administration's treatment of Haitian migrants has amplified a growing chorus of criticism over its border policies.

While Biden campaigned on a “fair and humane immigration system,” it has maintained the Title 42 border directive, first implemented in March 2020, and used it to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the border.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with White House officials Wednesday to urge better treatment of Haitian migrants. In a letter released late Thursday, 18 attorneys general, including Haitian-born Karl Racine of the District of Columbia, urged the administration to rethink its use of Title 42 against Haitian migrants.

“Individuals seeking asylum or other humanitarian assistance in our country deserve our respect and compassion,” the attorneys general wrote.

Caroline Simon contributed to this report.