Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas vowed a swift investigation into the treatment of Haitian migrants on the Texas border by agents on horseback, telling a House panel that the inquiry would be completed within days.
Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee that an undisclosed number of agents had been placed on administrative duty as investigators examine confrontations in which some mounted agents appeared to use their reins as whips against migrants who have been surging into Del Rio, Texas.
“I want to assure you that we are addressing this with tremendous speed and tremendous force,” Mayorkas said. “The facts will drive the action we take.”
“It will be completed in days – not weeks,” he added.
Images of the mounted agents driving migrants back across the Rio Grande prompted national condemnation.
Mayorkas said the actions were “met with our nation’s horror because they do not represent who we are as a country.”
The secretary said the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility will handle the examination and the agency’s inspector general had been notified.
“The investigation will be all-encompassing; we will not cut a single corner,” Mayorkas said. “It will be a sweeping investigation.”
Mayorkas’ testimony did not quiet the criticism.
New York Rep. John Katko, the committee’s ranking Republican, described conditions at the southern border as “absolutely out of control.”
“To me, it’s unbelievable what’s going on at the border,” Katko said.
Republicans accused President Joe Biden of failing to secure the southern border, and Democrats expressed outrage over images of agents on horseback running down migrants.
In a terse exchange, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., asked Mayorkas how many agents stationed at the border had been pulled off that duty to process Afghans coming into the USA after the military withdrawal from their home country last month.
She said agents had been removed “to process and essentially babysit” Afghans.
Mayorkas said he disagreed with Cammack’s characterization of that work before she shot back that she “didn’t ask if you disagreed” and called it “a disgrace” that agents in one of the busiest sectors had been pulled off their duty.
Republicans on the committee repeatedly asked Mayorkas if he thought his department’s plan to control immigration was working, pointing to statistics that show increased encounters with migrants compared with previous years.
“The border is secure. We’re executing our plan. I’ve been very clear and unequivocal in that regard,” Mayorkas told Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas. “It is no less secure than it was previously.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., questioned the policy of sending Haitians back to their home country and admonished the agents on horseback photographed pursuing those who had crossed the border.
“The images that I saw with regard to what was happening with Border Patrol employees whipping, I don’t care if it was your belt, your reins or what, but whipping Haitians is unconscionable, unacceptable and un-American,” she said.
The humanitarian needs of thousands of Haitians at the U.S.-Mexican border near Del Rio, Texas, remained acute Wednesday as the Biden administration continued expulsion flights to Haiti and Mexican law enforcement took a harder line.
The office of U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican whose district extends to Del Rio, Texas, said up to seven expulsion flights a day were expected to start Wednesday. About 8,600 Haitians are camped in Del Rio.
At a White House briefing Wednesday afternoon, press secretary Jen Psaki said of the images from the border: “We’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment, and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly.”
Contributing: El Paso Times