World

White House slams use of horse reins to threaten Haitian migrants

Netizens say incident has echoes of historical injustices suffered by black people in the United States

CIUDAD ACUNA, MEXICO : The White House criticised the use of horse reins to threaten Haitian migrants after images circulated of a US border guard on horseback charging at a group near a camp in Texas.

The mostly Haitian migrants have been crossing back and forth between Ciudad Acuna in Mexico and the camp across the border in Del Rio, Texas, to buy food and water that was in short supply on the US side.

Reuters witnesses saw mounted officers wearing cowboy hats blocking the paths of migrants, and one officer unfurling a cord resembling a lariat, which he swung near a migrant's face.

A video showing a border guard apparently threatening migrants with the cords was shared on social media.

"I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

"I do not have the full context. I cannot imagine what context would make that appropriate."

Some on social media commented that the image of fleeing black men chased by white officers on horseback had echoes of the historical injustices suffered by black people in the US.

US Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz said the incident was being investigated to make sure that there was not an "unacceptable" response by law enforcement officers. He said officers were operating in a difficult environment, trying to ensure the migrants' safety while searching for potential smugglers.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the long reins are used by mounted officials to "ensure control of the horse".

"But we are going to investigate the facts," he said during a news conference in Del Rio.

The camp under a bridge spanning the Rio Grande has become the latest flashpoint for the US authorities seeking to stem a flow of migrants fleeing gang violence, extreme poverty and natural disasters in their home countries. By Monday, hundreds of migrants had returned to the Mexico side amid uncertainty about whether they would be deported back to Haiti on flights organised by the US authorities.

That prospect worried the camp's residents, some of whom traversed continents over months to reach the border.

Haitian migrant Wildly Jeanmary cited July's presidential assassination as a reason not to return with his wife and their two-year-old daughter to the poorest country in the Americas. Haiti was also hit by a major earthquake last month.

Drenched and standing on the Mexican side of the river after crossing it, he said: "They can't send us back to Haiti because everyone knows what Haiti is like right now." - REUTERS

WORLD