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Harris, Mayorkas say they were horrified by images of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents confronting Haitian migrants

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Vice President Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday both decried images of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents aggressively confronting Haitian immigrants in Texas and pledged a swift but thorough investigation into the matter.

“Human beings should never be treated that way, and I was deeply troubled about it,” Harris said, responding to scenes captured by news cameras and photographers Sunday in Del Rio, Tex., along the Rio Grande that showed agents attempting to grab Haitian migrants and use their animals to push them back toward Mexico.

Harris, in comments to CBS News, said she supports the investigation launched by Mayorkas into what she characterized as a “horrible” episode and said she plans to talk to him directly about it later Tuesday. Harris has been tasked by President Biden to address the root causes of migration to the southern U.S. border.

Migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico into Texas on Sept. 19 were delayed by U.S. border officials on horseback. (Video: Reuters)

Hours earlier, during an appearance on CNN, Mayorkas said he was “horrified” by the images of the Border Patrol agents, who are part of the department he oversees.

“I am going to let the investigation run its course, but the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly,” Mayorkas said.

In one instance captured on video, an agent is heard on video shouting an obscenity as a child jumps out of a horse’s path.

“One cannot weaponize a horse to aggressively attack a child,” Mayorkas said. “That is unacceptable. That is not what our policies and our training require. … Let me be quite clear: That is not acceptable.”

Homeland security officials will investigate after images show agents on horseback grabbing migrants

Amid heavy criticism on Monday night, the Department of Homeland Security announced a formal inquiry into the episode, which it said Mayorkas directed after seeing the videos. Mayorkas said he has also directed the Office of Professional Responsibility, DHS’s internal oversight office, to send personnel to the area full-time.

“Any mistreatment or abuse of a migrant is unacceptable, is against Border Control policy, training and our department’s values,” Mayorkas said, pledging that the investigation will be conducted “swiftly.”

“The public needs and deserves to know its results,” Mayorkas said.

He said the department will act “with full force based on the facts that we learn.”

The Border Patrol typically uses horse-mounted officers to access difficult or roadless terrain and at times as a crowd-control tool, not unlike other law enforcement organizations.

Contrary to some reports, the agents in the images were not carrying whips but were seen swinging their horses’ reins. They did not appear to strike anyone.

The situation in Del Rio generated a new round of criticism Tuesday from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

During remarks on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the images of the horse-mounted border agents confronting migrants “completely unacceptable.”

“This behavior must be addressed, and we must provide accountability,” Schumer said. “The images turn our stomach. It must be stopped.”

During a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) took Mayorkas to task more broadly for the emergence of a makeshift camp in Del Rio, where nearly 15,000 border-crossers have arrived.

“Every time you come before this committee, you always say it’s going to get better,” Hawley said of illegal border crossings during the Biden administration. “And then every time you leave, it gets worse and worse. This is a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio. You can spin it whichever way that you want, but … we should not minimize the humanitarian conditions for which, frankly, you’re responsible. … tens of thousands of people living in conditions that are startling, startling, brought here because of your policies.”

Later in the hearing, Mayorkas told senators that the administration’s goal is to clear out the camp in Del Rio within 10 days.

“We expect to see dramatic results in the next 48 to 96 hours and will have a far better sense in the next two days,” he said.

Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz, who addressed reporters in Del Rio on Monday, said he made the decision to deploy the horse patrol agents to “find out if we had any individuals in distress, and be able to provide information and intelligence as to what the smuggling organizations were doing in and around the river.”

Ortiz said that he was confident the agents were “trying to control” their animals but that officials would “look into the matter to make sure that we do not have any activity that could be construed” as misconduct.

Nick Miroff and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.