- The Biden administration has halted Border Patrol agents' use of horses in Del Rio, Texas, amid public outcry over photos showing mounted agents charging at Haitian migrants at the border.
- DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told civil rights leaders Thursday that the administration "would no longer be using horses in Del Rio," according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The Biden administration has halted Border Patrol agents' use of horses in Del Rio, Texas, amid public outcry over video and photos showing mounted agents grabbing Haitian migrants trying to cross into the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told civil rights leaders Thursday that the administration "would no longer be using horses in Del Rio," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
When asked why President Joe Biden has not publicly condemned the images, one of which shows an agent on horseback grabbing a migrant by his shirt, Psaki said the change in policy demonstrates that the president finds the images "horrific."
"I think people should take away that his actions make clear how horrible and horrific these images are, including an investigation, including a change of policy, including conveying clearly that this is not acceptable, and he's not going to stand for this in the Biden-Harris administration," she said.
Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz on Monday rejected allegations that "whips" were used by agents in a compilation of images and videos that fueled an outcry on social media. They said the agents were wielding reins to control their horses.
However, the images still drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers this week.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., used Twitter to denounce the Border Patrol's actions.
"It doesn't matter if a Democrat or Republican is President, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants," Ocasio-Cortez said in a Twitter post. "Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention. This is a stain on our country."
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., echoed this sentiment in her own Twitter post Monday.
"These are human rights abuses, plain and simple. Cruel, inhumane, and a violation of domestic and international law," Omar said in the post. "This needs a course correction and the issuance of a clear directive on how to humanely process asylums seekers at our border."
Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters Tuesday that she was "deeply troubled" by the photos and fully supported a "thorough investigation," because "human beings should never be treated that way."
The policy change comes as the Biden administration faces backlash for its handling of the more than 10,000 Haitian migrants who have tried to cross the Rio Grande to enter the U.S. from Mexico since mid-September.
Psaki said 3,206 Haitian nationals have been moved to Customs and Border Protection custody to either be placed in removal proceedings or expelled through Title 42, a Trump-era health law that denies certain migrants the opportunity to apply for asylum.
The Biden administration recently appealed a federal judge's order to stop the use of Title 42, much to the dismay of immigration advocates and progressive Democrats who had hoped the policy would come to an end.
A total of 1,401 Haitians have also been sent back to Haiti through repatriation flights that began Sunday, Psaki added. Fewer than 5,000 migrants remain under the bridge in Del Rio on Thursday, she said.
The administration's response to what has become both a border and humanitarian crisis led the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, to resign Thursday over what he called "inhumane" treatment of Haitian migrants.
"Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed," Foote said in a resignation letter Wednesday obtained by NBC News.
Psaki said Foote had "ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure" but "he never did so." She added that there had been "disagreements" within the Biden administration over its policy response to the surge of Haitian migrants.