The US special envoy to Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote, has resigned over how President Joe Biden's administration has handled the deportation of thousands of Haitian migrants back to their crisis-gripped Caribbean nation.
“I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants,” Mr Foote said in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday.
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed.”
Mr Foote's resignation marks the highest-profile departure from the Biden administration.
It comes as the White House struggles to contain fallout from a string of self-inflicted public relations crises including the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and a humiliating snub to France, America's oldest ally, in the secret Australian submarine deal.
By the time Mr Foote resigned, the Biden administration had already flown 1,400 Haitians back to Haiti on 12 flights. Many had been living for years in South America before attempting to enter the US to claim asylum.
Mr Blinken said he appreciated the passion that Mr Foote "brought to the role".
"I think we actually see eye-to-eye on the fundamental need to support the Haitian people, to buttress Haiti's democracy," Mr Blinken told reporters at the sidelines of the UNGA gathering in New York.
State Department spokesman Ned Price sounded a less diplomatic tone, responding to Mr Foote's "unfortunate" resignation in a scathing statement.
"It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterised the circumstances of his resignation," Mr Price said.
"He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoed Mr Price's comments, claiming Mr Foote "never once" raised concerns about migration during his tenure.
Mr Foote was appointed to the position only in July, following the assassination of Haiti’s president.
Even before the migrant expulsions from the small Texas border town of Del Rio, he was known to be deeply frustrated with what he considered a lack of urgency in Washington and a glacial pace on efforts to improve conditions in Haiti.
His sudden exit leaves a void in US policy towards Haiti and adds a prominent, critical voice to the administration's response.
US Ambassador to Haiti Michelle Sison is expected to depart after being nominated to serve as the State Department’s assistant secretary of international organisation affairs.
Mr Foote's resignation follows growing pressure on the Biden administration from the UN and fellow Democrats over the treatment of Haitians in the migrant camp in Texas.
The Biden administration had initially sought to quickly expel as many as 14,000 Haitian migrants camped under a bridge in Del Rio after they crossed over from Ciudad Acuna in Mexico.
Images of US border guards on horseback using long reins to whip at asylum seekers at the weekend caused outrage within the White House and from rights groups.
US border patrol will no longer use horses in Del Rio following the circulation of the "horrible" and "horrific" images, Ms Psaki told reporters.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration was “horrified” by the images and that “they do not reflect who we are.” His department is investigating the incident.
“Those officers depicted in the images are no longer performing their law enforcement duties, pending the results of the investigation,” Mr Mayorkas said.
Mr Mayorkas stressed it is the Biden administration’s intent to continue to “accept refugees from all over the world.”
He further stated that the number of refugees in Del Rio has dropped to 3,000 and that some 600 personnel have been deployed to the area with medical supplies and food rations.
Other asylum seekers have left the dusty riverbank for Mexico to avoid being sent home.
Mr Mayorkas had earlier this week said the US would have “no choice” but to expel the migrants if they were caught crossing the US southern border. But the Biden administration seemed to quickly change course following the release of the photos and videos.
Mr Biden has yet to publicly speak out against the treatment of migrants, but Ms Psaki argued the president's actions are reflected in the ongoing investigation and in the change in policy.