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Less than a week after videos and images of U.S. Border Patrol officers on horseback whipping Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border prompted national outrage and an immediate federal investigation, the Department of Homeland Security will temporarily suspend that patrol.
"We have ceased the use of the horse patrol in Del Rio temporarily,” a DHS spokesperson told reporters Thursday, according to CNN. “We'll prioritize other methods for identifying individuals who might be in medical distress."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the move during Thursday’s press briefing.
“People should take away that his actions make clear how horrible and horrific he thinks these images are,” Psaki said on behalf of the president Thursday.
According to the department, the horse patrol is used to better navigate difficult terrain on the U.S. border. But the temporary shift follows days of criticism from immigration and migrants’ rights activists and Black Americans, for whom the scenes brought back painful memories of the country’s history with slavery. Even lawmakers on Capitol Hill and at the White House spoke out.
“Human beings should never be treated that way, and I was deeply troubled about it,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday.
The border agents seen chasing Haitian migrants on horseback have since been assigned to administrative duties, according to DHS Chief Alejandro Mayorkas. While Mayorkas condemned the actions that border patrol officers took over the weekend and called them horrific, he also pushed against the idea that agents’ treatment of the migrants was inhumane.
“You're assuming facts that have not yet been determined," Mayorkas said during a press conference Tuesday when asked by a reporter about how migrants were treated.
In addition to announcing the suspension of the horse patrol, DHS also reported around 7,000 Haitian migrants still remain in Del Rio, Texas, less than half of the 15,000 who had settled under a bridge in the city about a week ago, according to USA Today. Many of these migrants fled to the U.S. after a deadly earthquake in Haiti killed more than 2,000 people last month, others are fleeing the political instability that followed the assassination of Haiti’s president in July, and still more left Haiti months or years ago to try to make their way to the U.S.
DHS also said that they don’t expect a surge of migrants crossing into the U.S., as has been the case these last few weeks, anytime soon, according to CNN.