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All migrants have been cleared from encampment in Del Rio, Tex., homeland security secretary says

Haitians deported from the United States wait to receive their passports at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, in Port-au-Prince, Sept. 20. (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

The Biden administration said Friday it has finished clearing out the chaotic border camp in Del Rio, Texas, where images of U.S. agents on horseback pursuing migrants subjected the president to withering criticism this week.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters during a White House briefing that the encampment was emptied several days ahead of schedule, the result of an extensive federal mobilization and “heroic” efforts by his department’s workforce.

“Less than one week ago, there were approximately 15,000 migrants in Del Rio, Texas, the great majority of whom were Haitian nationals,” Mayorkas said. “As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants in the camp underneath the Del Rio International Bridge.”

Mayorkas’s appearance capped a week that left the Biden administration scorched by intraparty anger, and Republican attacks on the White House’s immigration policies and border management struggles.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sept. 24 spoke at the White House about a spot in Del Rio, Tex., that had seen an influx of Haitian migrants. (Video: The Washington Post)

The deportations of Black Haitians seeking asylum — and the viral images and videos of White Border Patrol agents grabbing and shouting at them — drew sharp rebukes from Black Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Amid furor over border images, Biden faces Democratic backlash on immigration

Earlier in the day, Biden decried the migrants’ treatment. Agents were photographed and filmed by news crews cursing at the Haitians and attempting to force them back across the river to Mexico, at times charging with their horses and swinging their leather reins.

There has been no evidence that agents stuck any of the migrants or used “whips” as some claimed.

“It was horrible,” the president said. “To see people treated like they did? Horses running them over and people being strapped? It's outrageous and I promise you, those people will pay.”

“There will be consequences,” he said. “It’s simply not who we are.”

Department of Homeland Security officials have opened an investigation into the incident. Asked whether the president’s sharp condemnations would affect the inquiry, Mayorkas told reporters the investigation would have integrity, its outcome would not be predetermined and the results will be made public.

“I will not prejudge the facts,” said Mayorkas. “We have investigators who are looking at it independently. They will draw their conclusions according to their standard operating procedures and then the results of that investigation will be determined by the facts that are adduced.”

“We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism,” he added.

U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigns, says he will not be associated with ‘inhumane, counterproductive’ deportations of Haitians

During Friday’s briefing, Mayorkas provided the most extensive information to date from the administration detailing the different outcomes for the migrants who crossed into Del Rio.

Of the 30,000 who arrived to that area of the border after Sept. 9, about 12,400 have been allowed to request asylum or another form of humanitarian protection, a process that typically means they are released from custody and allowed to remain in the United States while their claims are pending.

Mayorkas said about 2,000 migrants have been expelled to Haiti on a total of 17 flights organized by DHS. Six more flights were scheduled Friday.

About 8,000 migrants “decided to return to Mexico voluntarily,” he said.

Most of the 8,000 were part of those who arrived to the Del Rio camp, indicating more than half of the migrants who arrived there have returned to Mexico, according to a DHS official who was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The remaining 5,000 are being processed “to determine whether they will be expelled or placed in immigration removal proceedings,” he added.

Immigrant aid groups and officials in Central America say thousands more Haitians are transiting north with the goal of crossing into the United States. Mexican authorities this week tightened enforcement and pledged to begin returning migrants to Haiti.

Mayorkas appeared a day after the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned from his position and wrote a scathing letter saying he wanted no part in what he called an “inhumane, counterproductive decision” to return the migrants to a country in no condition to receive them.

Haiti’s president was assassinated in July, and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed at least 2,000 along the nation’s southern peninsula last month.

Mayorkas said the administration had determined Haiti to be capable of taking back the returnees, just weeks after finding the country too unsafe as DHS extended protected status to eligible Haitians present in the United States before July 29, shielding them from deportation.

U.S. officials have set up a $5.5 million fund to help returnees sent back from the Del Rio camp, he said.