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What Will Happen To Haitian Migrants Massed At The U.S.-Mexico Border?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An investigation is underway by the Department of Homeland Security at the U.S.-Mexico border. Disturbing images and video showed Border Patrol agents on horseback trying to force mostly Haitian migrants away from the area.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke on Capitol Hill yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: We do not tolerate any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant, period.

MARTIN: So what does the situation actually look and feel like on the ground?

Reuters reporter Dana Beth Solomon is in Mexico, along the border in the city of Ciudad Acuña. Daina, thanks so much for being with us.

DAINA BETH SOLOMON: Hi. Thank you.

MARTIN: What have you witnessed, in terms of how these migrants are being treated by authorities?

SOLOMON: Well, you know, yesterday on the U.S. side of the border, which I was looking at from the Mexico side of the border, there was a line of patrol cars spread out on the upper banks of the Rio Grande. And migrants were going back and forth across the river freely without any interference. You know, in Mexico, we've seen migration agents pick up people who looked like they were Haitian migrants from the streets and from some hotels. And one incident that I saw, there were people yelling and protesting and who clearly didn't want to lose their chance to be in Mexico. But another time, you know, people went pretty quietly. And I was able to talk to a woman from the inside of one of the migration buses, and she told me that she did not know where they were being sent.

MARTIN: So explain why these particular Haitian migrants, who ultimately want to stay in the United States, why are they going back and forth across the border into Mexico?

SOLOMON: Some of them are coming into Mexico to get food and supplies, like blankets, and bring them into the U.S., where they've been living in a really makeshift improvised camp with poor conditions right underneath the international bridge. And other people are coming into Mexico because they've pretty much given up on any hope of getting into the U.S. and just don't want to be deported back to Haiti. So they're coming back to Mexico, regrouping, making new plans, thinking about whether to stay in Mexico, trying to figure out their options.

MARTIN: Wow. In one of the photos that was taken by one of your colleagues at Reuters, a border agent is leaning off his horse, aggressively grabbing one migrant's shirt. And the man appears to be carrying boxes of food. As you know, people are moving back and forth. You earlier described kind of an orderly process for that. But I understand - and especially based on this photo - it's not always so orderly, right? They're just moving across the river as they can.

SOLOMON: Yeah. I mean, this certainly is not an official crossing point by any means. So they're fording the river. And they've been doing that however they can. And they've put up a rope that's stretching from one side to the other so that they can hold on to that as they cross. But yeah, it's still, you know, crossing a river, with its currents and whatever else kind of may happen there.

MARTIN: Right. So what are the options for these folks? Daina, the situation in Haiti is pretty bad. That's an understatement. I imagine they're desperate not to get reported. What's likely to happen?

SOLOMON: Now, Mexico is starting to move some of these people to cities closer to its southern border - so hundreds of miles away - some places where they've started asylum applications. But it's still not clear whether they'll be able to finish those applications and whether they'll be granted asylum in Mexico or if it's still not clear.

MARTIN: Daina Beth Solomon is a reporter with Reuters. She joined us from along the U.S.-Mexico border. She joined us also on Skype. Thank you so much for your time.

SOLOMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.