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Thursday, October 28, 2021

House Democrats demand answers by Friday about the Border Patrol’s treatment of Haitian migrants.

House Democrats on Wednesday demanded that Biden administration officials meet with members of the oversight committee by Friday to face questions about the treatment of Haitian immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border after videos showed mounted Border Patrol agents corralling and menacing migrants, sparking widespread outrage.

“We were alarmed to see footage of the inhumane treatment of Haitian and other migrants in Del Rio, Texas, by Border Patrol agents on horseback,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the oversight committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Troy A. Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The letter noted that images and videos showed border agents “charging at women, men, and children; menacing them with bridle reins; and making derogatory comments towards the migrants. Such abusive conduct is unacceptable and raises troubling questions about culture, training, and discipline within C.B.P.”

The letter asks for Customs and Border Protection officials to brief the committee by the end of the week about the conduct of the agents, what directions they received from supervisors and whether any disciplinary steps have been taken. The committee also is seeking information about actions that are being taken to protect migrants at the Del Rio border; the use of a health regulation known as Title 42 to expel migrants; and unredacted copies of any internal investigations into the incidents.

Five other Democratic representatives also signed the letter: Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the chairman of the civil rights subcommittee; Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; and members of the progressive group known as the “Squad” — Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“Reports that thousands of migrants are being deported to Haiti despite turmoil in that country raise serious concerns about whether the federal government is failing to treat migrants — including those fleeing violence, political instability, and natural disasters — with respect and dignity and affording them a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum,” the lawmakers wrote.

Photographs and the widely circulated video footage this week of border agents’ interactions with Haitian migrants offer a view into the chaos unfolding in Del Rio, where large groups of Haitians crossed the Rio Grande and illegally entered the United States.

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Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday afternoon that the administration was investigating the border agents’ actions and would finish its work by next week.

“As it relates to those photos and that horrific video, we’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly,” Ms. Psaki said.

Also on Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met at the White House with Susan Rice, the president’s domestic policy adviser, as well as with the president’s director of public engagement, Cedric Richmond, and the vice president’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy.

“We were able to express our concern for people who look like us,” Representative Joyce Beatty, Democrat of Ohio and the caucus’s chairwoman, said afterward. “We had not seen the horses and the whips with any other population of people, so that to us goes to racism.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, also wrote a letter to Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, to “express serious concern regarding the ongoing repatriation of Haitian migrants and urge a humanitarian moratorium on these repatriations.”

The Biden administration has flown more than 1,000 people to Haiti since Sunday and plans to run seven flights a day starting Wednesday, with room for 135 migrants on each plane, according to an official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategies.

The deportations are the latest example of the Biden administration, in its attempts to assert control over soaring numbers of border crossings, belying a campaign pledge to restore an asylum program for vulnerable families fleeing persecution and poverty.

Leaders of civil rights organizations, including the N.A.A.C.P., sent a letter to Mr. Biden on Tuesday condemning the treatment of the Haitians, and other allies of Mr. Biden denounced the actions, comparing the events at the border to those seen under his predecessor as president, Donald J. Trump.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at the Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. @lukebroadwater

Eileen Sullivan is a Washington correspondent covering the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, she worked at the Associated Press where she won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. @esullivannyt

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