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President Biden is facing increased scrutiny from members of his own party over his administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In letters to administration officials, meetings at the White House and a press conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers urged the administration to suspend deportation flights to Haiti, and demanded accountability for the alleged mistreatment of Haitian migrants by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
“The Biden administration must immediately and indefinitely halt deportations,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass, said Wednesday at a press conference outside the Capitol.
Pressley, who serves as co-chair on the House Haiti Caucus, joined several other House Democrats to demand accountability for what she called “the cruel, the inhumane and the flat-out racist treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters at the southern border.”
“We have a moral obligation to lead with compassion,” said Pressley. “Haitian lives are Black lives and if we truly believe that Black lives matter, we must reverse course.”
The press conference comes amid growing concerns among Democrats over the Biden administration’s efforts to remove thousands of mostly Haitian migrants from a makeshift encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande River in Del Rio, Texas. Over the last few days, hundreds of migrants have been deported to the island nation which has been in crisis following the assassination of its president in July and a devastating earthquake weeks later that left thousands dead and many more homeless.
In addition to the mass deportations, which the Department of Homeland Security is reportedly planning to increase in the coming days, photos and video emerged over the weekend which appeared to show Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants near the Del Rio encampment in an attempt to push them back into Mexico.
Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the footage “horrific,” and on Monday the DHS announced that it was investigating the actions of the agents in the footage.
“DHS does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously,” the agency said in a message posted to Twitter.
In a Wednesday meeting at the White House, members of the Congressional Black Caucus reiterated their concerns about the images as well as the general treatment of Haitian migrants, while Democrats on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, requesting a briefing about the Del Rio incident by the end of the week. The Oversight Committee is also seeking information about the ongoing deportations of Haitian migrants which, the letter states, “raise serious concerns about whether the federal government is failing to treat migrants — including those fleeing violence, political instability, and natural disasters — with respect and dignity and affording them a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, outlined similar concerns in a separate letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In their letter, also sent Wednesday, Thompson and Meeks asked for “documented assessments that informed the Administration’s determination that Haiti is equipped to welcome and resettle deportees.” The congressmen also reiterated calls for the administration to “halt repatriations to Haiti until the country recovers from these devastating crises.”
At a press briefing Wednesday, Psaki said the investigation into the actions of the Border Patrol agents will be completed by next week and said that “in the interim, those individuals have been placed on administrative leave and will not be interacting with any migrants.”
“We’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment,” she added.
Psaki went on to say that President Biden “remains committed to putting in place an orderly and humane immigration system,” and defended the administration’s continued use of a pandemic-era emergency authority known as Title 42 to expel most migrants, including Haitians, on the grounds that they represent a threat to public health.
“We are continuing to expel people from a range of countries,” she said, insisting that “our policies, our border restrictions, are being applied not just to Haitians.”
The recent expulsions of Haitians under Title 42 has renewed calls by Democratic lawmakers as well as many human and civil rights advocates for the Biden administration to rescind the policy, which was first implemented under former President Donald Trump, and has been used to deny migrants who may have a legitimate fear of returning to their home country the right to seek asylum at the border.
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