- Rep. Tony Gonzalez defended US Border Patrol agents who were filmed whipping at Haitian migrants.
- The Texas Republican said the agents were “doing God’s work fighting everything they can.”
- The Department of Homeland Security has opened an investigation into the treatment of the migrants.
Rep. Tony Gonzalez, a Texas Republican, defended US Border Patrol agents who were filmed riding on horseback and using their reins to whip at Haitian migrants attempting to cross the US-Mexico border.
Gonzalez argued that the law enforcement agents were “doing God’s work” by attempting to prevent the migrants from crossing the river on Sunday near Del Rio, Texas. Thousands of Haitian migrants hoping to seek asylum in the US are currently sheltering in a squalid makeshift refugee camp under a bridge in Del Rio.
“It’s a very desperate situation and they’re doing God’s work, fighting everything they can,” Gonzalez told CNN of the officers in a Tuesday interview. He argued that “chaos” is inevitable under the current circumstances.
“The last thing any of us want to see is the mistreatment of anyone, to include migrants, but when you have tens of thousands of people and only hundreds of Border Patrol agents it creates a very desperate situation,” he said.
Haitian migrants told reporters that they were forced to leave the camp to find water and food for themselves and their families, including many young children. Many of them waded across the river to retrieve sustenance in Mexico and then attempted to return to the camp.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday called the images of the Border Patrol agents whipping and yelling at barefoot migrants carrying bags of food “horrific” and “horrible.” The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that it has opened an investigation into the treatment of the migrants.
“The footage is extremely troubling, and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken,” the agency said in a statement.
Video footage taken by Al Jazeera English showed agents on horseback using their reins as whips as they charged the migrants and tried to push them back into the river. One agent yelled at a group of men and women, “This is why your country’s shit because you use your women for this.”
Haiti is suffering from urgent humanitarian and political crises. In July, the president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated when gunmen stormed his residence. The country’s top prosecutor has since said there’s evidence the acting prime minister played a role in the assassination. Meanwhile, the United Nations has reported that 800,000 Haitians were impacted by the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the country last month, which killed more than 2,000 people.
“Everyone knows what we Haitians are going through,” one Haitian migrant told an Al Jazeera reporter on the banks of the Rio Grande. “There’s no president. Crime is high. Students can’t go to school. There’s no work. The economy is down. People can’t put up with that.”
The US government has begun deporting thousands of Haitian migrants back to Haiti, even as the Haitian government pleads for a “humanitarian moratorium” on such removals.
Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called the US officers’ actions human rights violations.
“These are human rights abuses, plain and simple. Cruel, inhumane, and a violation of domestic and international law,” Omar tweeted on Monday. “This needs a course correction and the issuance of a clear directive on how to humanely process asylums seekers at our border.”