The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted the use of a horse patrol unit along the Del Rio, Texas, border with Mexico amid public outrage over a photo of a mounted U.S. Custom and Border Protection agent chasing Haitian migrants.
The image showed the agent on a horse wielding what appeared to be ropes or reins while chasing Haitian migrants trying to get back to an encampment where thousands of asylum-seekers had gathered. It has led Haitians, immigration and civil rights activists for to call on the Biden administration to end its accelerated deportations to Haiti.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the policy change about the horse patrol was conveyed Thursday morning to civil rights leaders.
“That is something, a policy change that has been made in response,” Psaki told reporters. “There is an investigation the president certainly supports overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, which he has conveyed what will happen quickly.”
At its peak there were close to 15,000 migrants in Del Rio camping out underneath the bridge that connects the southern Texas city with Ciudad Acuña in Mexico. The majority of the migrants were Haitian, with families accounting for about two-thirds of the asylum-seeking population. There have also been “a low number” of unaccompanied children as well, DHS acknowledged.
DHS did not have a specific breakdown on how many of the migrants returned to Haiti were part of a family units or single adults or children.
The United Nations’ leading children agency, UNICEF, said Thursday that more than two out of three Haitian migrants who have been repatriated to Port-au-Prince are women and children. Some of them are newborn babies.
UNICEF also estimates that about 40% of the Haitian migrants in Del Rio are children.
“Haiti is reeling from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. “When children and families are sent back without adequate protection, they find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty and displacement — factors that drove them to migrate in the first place.”
Even though DHS said it has been closely monitoring the flow of migrants throughout the hemisphere, they acknowledged that the scale of this recent surge caught them off guard.