The US is flying Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland in what could be one of the country's largest expulsion of migrants in decades.
In all, US authorities are expected to remove many of the 12,000 migrants in Del Rio, Texas, after they made the crossing from Ciudad Acuna in Mexico.
The first flights carrying migrants from the Del Rio camp landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday, with at least three more due to make the journey on Monday, flight-tracking website Flightaware showed.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday urged the migrants to abandon their attempts to cross the border, saying the government would have “no choice” but to expel them.
He visited Del Rio on Monday to meet local officials, where he outlined the steps undergone to address the issue.
This includes securing additional transportation to speed up the removal process and increase the capacity of removal flights and working with nearby countries to accept individuals who previously resided there.
Though US President Joe Biden reversed many immigration policies enacted by his predecessor, Donald Trump, he has kept a pandemic-era expulsion policy in which migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border are sent back.
Many migrants had come from as far south as Chile, hoping to apply for asylum in the US.
One image circulated on Monday appeared to show a US patrol agent whipping migrants at the border.
“I have seen some of the footage. I don't have the full context. I can't imagine what context would make that appropriate,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
“I don't think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate,” she added.
Fearing deportation back to Haiti, many migrants returned to Mexico after travelling for months to reach the US.
Dozens of Haitians carrying backpacks and plastic bags of belongings have abandoned the camp and returned to Ciudad Acuna, saying they planned to stay in Mexico for now because they did not want to be sent back to Haiti.
“They can't send us back to Haiti because everyone knows what Haiti is like right now,” said Haitian migrant Wildly Jeanmary late on Sunday. Travelling with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, he cited July's presidential assassination as a reason why he cannot return to his country.
Haiti was also struck by a devastating earthquake last month that left at least 2,200 dead and destroyed about 61,000 homes.
The mass expulsion of the Haitian migrants comes as Senate Democrats suffered a crushing blow to their budget bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Sunday against a plan to legalise undocumented immigrants through the bill, which Democrats had hoped would put millions on a pathway to US citizenship.
Reuters contributed to this report