Top U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, on Tuesday condemned the way horse-mounted border agents have corralled Haitian migrants along the Mexican border to keep them from entering the United States.
"What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback, treating human beings, the way they were (was) horrible," Harris told reporters Tuesday. "And I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into exactly what is going on there. But human beings should never be treated that way."
Harris said she would talk later with Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas, who has ordered a probe into the actions by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Mayorkas told a congressional hearing Tuesday, "I was horrified to see the images. … We do not tolerate any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant."
The images, video footage and photographs, showed agents attempting to grab some of the thousands of migrants gathered at the border along the Rio Grande and using their horses to push the migrants back toward Mexico.
"I am going to let the investigation run its course, but the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly," Mayorkas told CNN.
An agent is heard on one video shouting an obscenity as a child jumps away from the path of a horse.
"One cannot weaponize a horse to aggressively attack a child," Mayorkas said. "That is unacceptable. That is not what our policies and our training require. … Let me be quite clear: That is not acceptable."
Earlier reports appeared to show agents using whips to control the migrants. But they were swinging their horses' reins and did not appear to strike anyone.
Mayorkas said, "Any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant is unacceptable, is against border control policy, training and our department's values." He said the investigation would be conducted "swiftly."
"The public needs and deserves to know its results," Mayorkas said.
Another top Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said, "This behavior must be addressed, and we must provide accountability. The images turn our stomach. It must be stopped."
A Republican critic of President Joe Biden, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, criticized Mayorkas for immigration policies he said encouraged the migration of nearly 15,000 Haitians to the border. The Haitians mostly escaped the rubble of a 2010 earthquake on the Caribbean island-nation and have since then been living in South American countries.
At a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Hawley told Mayorkas, "This is a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio. You can spin it whichever way that you want, but … we should not minimize the humanitarian conditions for which, frankly, you're responsible. … tens of thousands of people living in conditions that are startling, startling, brought here because of your policies."
Hawley and other Republicans have blamed the Biden administration for easing tough-on-immigration policies that had been championed by former President Donald Trump.
According to Haiti's Office of National Migration, more than 320 migrants were deported to Haiti on Sunday, and two flights arrived on Monday afternoon. One of the planes carried about 130 migrants. Haitian advocacy groups have reported that additional flights are expected this week.
DHS officials confirmed to The Washington Post that "these flights will continue on a regular basis," but they did not comment on whether agents explain to Haitian deportees that they are being sent back to Haiti.
U.S. officials have repeatedly told migrants to stay in their homelands. Regardless, streams of migrants, the most in two decades, have been heading to the country's southwestern border with Mexico in the belief that the U.S. will allow them to enter and stay.