The United States deported more Haitian migrants to their homeland on Monday, with top American officials warning thousands from the island-nation that they would not be allowed in at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Videos of the chaotic scene at the border appeared to show some U.S. border agents on horseback using whips to lash at the migrants.
“I have seen some of the footage,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. “I don’t have the full context,” she said, adding, “I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate. I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”
VOA also asked Psaki about claims made by Haitian migrants, to VOA reporters, that they were treated worse than their Spanish-speaking counterparts. Some reported that they were denied the chance to change clothing. Others said they were not given adequate information on their deportation or their deportation status.
“I can assure people that that is not our policy,” Psaki said. “Obviously, any circumstance where individuals are not treated humanely, whether they are coming to our border or not, is not in line with the Biden administration policies.”
She added that the American Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies were providing resources to migrants at the border.
At a news conference near the border in Del Rio, Texas, Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas warned the Haitians, “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned.”
The Haitian migrants – as many as 14,000, according to some estimates – have massed in recent days in hopes of securing a new life in the U.S. The sheer numbers have overwhelmed U.S. border agents.
Mayorkas said the U.S. is flying them back to Haiti, a place where many of the migrants have not lived for more than a decade, after fleeing from the rubble left by a 2010 earthquake and moving to Chile, Brazil and other South American countries.
“We anticipate at least one to three flights a day," Mayorkas said, adding that the U.S. is working to improve conditions for people at the border as they await processing, providing meals, water, towels and toilets, and having medical staff on hand.
The White House said it has directed government agencies to work with Haiti and other regional governments to provide support to those being returned. But some arriving deportees in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, have told reporters there they have no place to live in violence-torn Haiti, which already is beset by political uncertainty after the unsolved July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
"We are in the midst of a (coronavirus) pandemic and a critical migration challenge,” Mayorkas said.
He said the U.S. is trying to address the situation in Del Rio, with an additional 600 border agents brought in to control the crowd and help process the deportations. About 3,000 of the migrants were moved to a processing location on Monday.
“We're concerned the Haitians undertaking this irregular migration path are receiving bad information that the path is open,” Mayorkas said. “This is not the way to come to the United States. That is false information."
He said that only Haitians living in U.S. before July 29 are eligible for Temporary Protected Status. He said that "irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of the migrants themselves."
Acting Border Patrol Commissioner Troy Miller said, “Our borders are not open. Entering the country illegally is a dangerous undertaking. Don’t put your family's safety in the hands of smugglers and other criminals who tell you the borders are open. Don't do it.”
VOA’s Anita Powell contributed to this report.