U.S. suspends use of mounted Border Patrol units in Del Rio, Texas

The Biden administration has demobilized units of Border Patrol agents on horseback in Del Rio, Texas, following controversy over the tactics they employed recently to disperse Haitian migrants, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Thursday

“We have ceased the use of the horse patrol in Del Rio temporarily,” a DHS official said during a briefing with reporters. “We’ll prioritize other methods for identifying individuals who might be in medical distress.” 

The suspension comes days after news outlets captured video and photos showing mounted Border Patrol agents aggressively dispersing migrants near Del Rio. Some footage showed Border Patrol agents swinging lariats, a type of rope used by horse riders, while trying to impede the passage of Haitian migrants.

In one video, an agent on horseback was heard telling a migrant man who huddled with a group of women and children, “This is why your country’s s–t, because you use your women for this.”

The compilation of videos and photos sparked outrage among advocates for immigrants, Democratic lawmakers and top officials in the Biden administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, both of whom called the footage horrifying.   

“What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were was horrible,” Harris said Tuesday. “Human beings should never be treated that way.”

APTOPIX Mexico Border Migrant Camp
Mounted border agents attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday, September 19, 2021.  Felix Marquez / AP

Earlier this week, DHS pledged to “swiftly” investigate the incidents and take disciplinary actions if warranted, saying the department does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in its custody. The case was also referred to the Office of Inspector General at DHS.

Mayorkas told lawmakers on Wednesday the internal investigation should conclude by the end of next week and that he plans to make its findings public.

In the meantime, the Border Patrol agents at the center of the investigation have been placed on administrative duty and banned from interacting with migrants, Mayorkas said. 

The uproar over the conduct of some Border Patrol agents is the latest flashpoint in the Biden administration’s struggle to address a rapid and massive increase in Haitians arriving in Del Rio, a border sector that does not have the infrastructure to process and house large groups of migrants.

The spike in border arrivals, coupled with the emergence of a squalid camp underneath a bridge in Del Rio that was housing as many as 15,000 migrants at one point last weekend, prompted the administration to dramatically increase deportations to Haiti.

Since Sunday, the U.S. has expelled more than 1,400 Haitians to their homeland under Title 42, a public health authority that authorizes the quick removal of migrants and denies them a chance to seek asylum.

Those deportations have also garnered criticism from progressive lawmakers and advocates for asylum-seekers, who believe the U.S. should not be sending people to a country still reeling from a deadly earthquake, political turmoil worsened by the killing of its president in July,  rampant insecurity and deep-rooted poverty.

Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the administration for allowing some Haitian migrants to stay in the U.S. while they continue their immigration court cases.