Homeland Security Chair Urges DHS to Stop 'Horrifying' Treatment of Haitian Migrants

Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, condemned the "horrifying" treatment of thousands of Haitian migrants in Texas and urged the Biden administration to halt repatriation flights.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas dated Friday, Thompson addressed the situation at the Southern border and called on the U.S. government to "do better" to allow migrants the opportunity to safely seek asylum.

"The Biden Administration has promised the American people a humane approach to our borders. The handling of the asylum seekers in Del Rio does not live up to that commitment," Thompson wrote. "Doing better starts with immediately halting the repatriation flights to Haiti, as country conditions remain dire."

"We must act in line with our values and uphold our legal obligation to provide Haitians, and other migrants, an opportunity to apply for asylum," the Democratic chairman added.

Thompson went on to criticize the treatment of migrants after video footage showed border patrol officers on horseback apparently lashing at Haitians with leather reins. On Thursday, the DHS said the horse patrol unit in Del Rio had been temporarily suspended and that the agents' actions were being investigated.

In response, the Democratic chairman is calling on the DHS to update its use of force policies and improve training for border patrol officers.

"The men and women of USBP should receive the highest caliber training before we put them on the frontlines to protect our border and interact with migrants and other vulnerable populations," Thompson wrote.

Bennie Thompson
Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, wrote a letter to DHS on Friday condemning the "horrifying" treatment of Haitian migrants. Here, Thompson is seen at the Cannon House Office Building on July 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images

Thompson's letter comes after some 14,000 Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas, in the past week. The latest surge prompted DHS to ramp up border patrol efforts and rapidly expel roughly 2,000 migrants, while thousands more could face removal under pandemic powers that deny people the chance to seek asylum.

Mayorkas said Friday that about 5,000 migrants are in the department's custody and are being processed to determine whether they will be expelled or granted asylum, according to the Associated Press. In total, Mayorkas said the U.S. has allowed about 12,400 to temporarily enter the country while they make claims to stay before an immigration judge.

A U.S. official on Friday told the AP that seven more deportation flights are planned for Saturday, while six are planned for Sunday.

The influx of Haitian migrants comes after Haiti was thrown into political and environmental chaos following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Democratic lawmakers have since criticized the expulsion of the migrants, calling the situation "inhumane" as thousands are seeking a better life in the U.S.

"After four years of the Trump Administration, where migrants had their families torn apart and were vilified, Americans look to you and the President to deliver on the promise of more humane treatment of migrants," Thompson wrote in his letter to Mayorkas.

Newsweek contacted the DHS for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

Correction 9/26/21 8:09 PM ET: An earlier version of the story misstated that Haiti's prime minister was assassinated. It was Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. We regret the error.