Biden Promised Border Patrol Agents Would 'Pay' for 'Horrible' Treatment of Haitian Migrants. His Administration Just Denied Any Wrongdoing.

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant 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. / Getty Images
June 14, 2022

President Joe Biden promised last year Border Patrol agents would "pay" for their "horrible" treatment of Haitian migrants at the southern border. Now facing a lawsuit, Biden administration lawyers are denying any wrongdoing.

The Biden administration filed a motion Friday to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges the United States illegally discriminated against Haitian migrants when roughly 15,000 illegal immigrants from the country set up camp in Del Rio, Texas, to apply for asylum. Biden administration lawyers argue the agents did not treat the Haitians differently than any other group of immigrants. At the time, however, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the agents—who were photographed trying to contain the migrants on horseback, with some images misconstrued by journalists to claim agents were using whips—for allegedly discriminating against the migrants.

"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 told ABC's The View. Biden, meanwhile, called the agents' behavior "horrible" and promised they "will pay."

The Biden administration's about-face comes as Border Patrol agents struggle to contain record levels of illegal immigration at the southern border. Authorities encountered 234,088 migrants there in April, the highest number recorded in a single month. The foreign-born population in the United States is at its highest level in more than a century, the Washington Free Beacon reported this month.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance, the liberal nonprofit suing the Biden administration, mirrors Harris's condemnation in its suit, claiming Border Patrol agents' treatment of Haitian migrants was "consistent with the United States' long history of anti-Haitian and anti-Black immigration policies." The Biden administration used immigration laws "as a cudgel to deny thousands of Haitians an opportunity to access the U.S. asylum process," the plaintiffs claim.

In its motion to dismiss, the Biden administration said the Haitian migrants could not prove they sustained any "actual or imminent" injury as a result of the Border Patrol’s actions. Biden’s counsel also rebuked claims of discrimination, saying the administration had not treated the plaintiffs differently on the basis of race or nationality.

The Department of Justice and the White House did not respond to a request for comment. The legal counsel for the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden and Harris's condemnation of the Border Patrol agents came after media outlets, including Vice News and the Daily Beast, falsely claimed the agents whipped the migrants as they attempted to illegally cross the U.S. border. The reports, however, were eventually debunked—the agents' "whips" were actually horse reins.

Although the Department of Homeland Security cleared the agents of criminal wrongdoing following the media-driven frenzy, the Biden administration still prohibits the agents from riding on horseback, the Free Beacon reported last month. The move has prompted criticism from some Border Patrol officials, who say it hobbles the agents' ability to secure the border at a time of record immigration.

"The only mistake those agents did was going out there, doing their jobs," Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council and Local 3307, told the Free Beacon.