Amid outrage over images the White House said President Joe Biden found "horrible," the U.S. Border Patrol has temporarily stopped using agents on horseback against Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, Homeland Security officials said Thursday.
Shortly afterward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the decision to end the horse patrols in what critics said was offensively harsh treatment of the migrants.
"We have taken very specific actions as it relates to the horrific photos that we -- we’re not going to stand for in this administration," she told reporters at her daily press briefing.
The agents have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Images of Border Patrol agents using their horses for crowd control on the banks of the Rio Grande have incensed Democratic lawmakers, some of whom drew a connection to white supremacy and slavery.
“Haitian lives are Black lives, and if we truly believe that Black lives matter, then we must reverse course,” Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said at a news conference Wednesday.
Pressley also called on the Biden administration to “immediately and indefinitely” stop the removal of Haitian nationals back to Haiti. Democrats and immigrant advocates remain concerned that the administration’s rapid removal of migrants from the border has limited their access to humanitarian protections outlined under the law.
Homeland Security officials said Thursday the removals would continue.
Law enforcement agencies across the country use mounted patrols on a regular basis to traverse rough terrain, including in remote areas of the border that don't have paved roads.
While many were disturbed by what appeared to be aggressive behavior by the agents on horseback, Border Patrol agents who spoke to ABC News said their colleagues in the controversial photographs were following procedures. They said it's common practice for agents on horseback to use "long reins" to control the horse, apparently leading a photojournalist at the scene in Del Rio to describe them as "whips" being used by the agents.
Any use of whips, even on horses, would be out of line with agency policy, Border Patrol Agent and Union Vice President Jon Anfinsen told ABC News.
"These agents are highly trained along with their horses and they were doing exactly what they were trained to do," Anfinsen said.
About 4,000 migrants remain at the camp and the officials estimated that about two-thirds of the entire group that gathered in Del Rio were families.