Biden condemns Border Patrol agents' treatment of Haitian migrants, vows they will face consequences

By Annika Kim Constantino

  • President Joe Biden on Friday condemned Border Patrol agents' treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, as "outrageous."
  • "I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences," Biden said. 
  • Vice President Kamala Harris compared the treatment of Haitian migrants by Border Patrol agents on horseback to the oppression of indigenous people and African Americans during slavery.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Friday condemned the U.S. Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, calling the behavior of agents on horseback "outrageous" and vowing they will face consequences for their actions. 

"It's horrible what you saw. To see people like they did, with horses, running them over, people being strapped, it's outrageous," Biden said at the White House, referencing a series of photos and video showing mounted Border Patrol agents grabbing Haitian migrants trying to cross into the U.S. 

"I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences," he said. 

It was the president's first substantive comment on the situation in Del Rio, where approximately 30,000 Haitian migrants have tried to enter the U.S. from Mexico since Sept. 9.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in an interview with ABC's "The View" on Friday, compared the agents' treatment of Haitian migrants to the oppression of indigenous people and African Americans during slavery.

"As we all know it evoked images of some of the worst moments of our history where that kind of behavior has been used against the indigenous people of our country, has been used against African Americans during times of slavery," Harris said.

United States Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.

Paul Ratje | AFP | Getty Images

"There needs to be consequences and accountability. Human beings should not be treated that way," the vice president said, noting that she fully supports the investigation being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the department's secretary, said at a White House press briefing Friday that agents involved in the events captured in the photos and videos have been assigned to administrative duties and are not interacting with migrants while the investigation is being conducted.

When asked about Biden's statement vowing to punish the agents, Mayorkas said he is going to "let the investigation run its course."

"I know the president was echoing sentiments of the American public response, images and what those images suggest, but I want to speak to the fact that this investigation will be based on facts that the investigators learn," Mayorkas said.

The Biden administration's handling of the influx of migrants has drawn sharp criticism from immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers. Amid public outcry, the administration on Thursday halted agents' use of horses in Del Rio.

However, Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz on Monday rejected allegations that whips were used by agents in the images and videos that fueled public outrage. They said the agents were wielding reins to control their horses.

Biden said he took responsibility for the crisis unfolding at the border and the actions of the Border Patrol depicted in the images.

"Of course I take responsibility," Biden said. "I'm president."

"It's dangerous. It's wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world and sends the wrong message at home," he said. "It's simply not who we are."

The U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned Thursday over the Biden administration's Haiti policy after only two months in the position. In a scathing letter, Foote condemned the administration's deportations of Haitian migrants as inhumane.

"Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed," Foote said in his resignation letter Wednesday obtained by NBC News.

As of Friday morning, the border camp in Del Rio where thousands of mostly Haitian migrants had gathered had been fully cleared, according to Mayorkas. Just Thursday, the Biden administration said less than 5,000 remained at the camp.

Approximately 2,000 Haitian nationals have been sent back to Haiti on a total of 17 repatriation flights organized by the Department of Homeland Security, Mayorkas said. 

An estimated 8,000 returned to Mexico voluntarily and more than 5,000 are being processed by the Department of Homeland Security to determine if they should be placed in immigration removal proceedings or expelled through a public health law known as Title 42, Mayorkas said. 

Approximately 12,400 migrants will eventually have their cases heard by an immigration judge who will determine whether they will be deported or remain in the U.S., he added.

Title 42 is a controversial provision, first implemented by the Trump administration during the coronavirus pandemic, that denies certain migrants the opportunity to apply for asylum.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Title 42 will remain in effect until there's no longer a danger of people who aren't U.S. citizens bringing Covid-19 into the country when they cross the border. Unaccompanied children are exempt from Title 42.

-- CNBC's Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.