The White House has confirmed that the planned George Bush Intercontinental Airport-Hidalgo crossing will no longer use horse and carriages to transport travelers across the border in Hidalgo, Texas. The horses, the New York Times reports, will be shipped out of the city by the end of the month.
The closure, the first time a Obama-era policy is being fully phased out, came amid a protest of the impending shuttering on Friday, with local border crossers and Congress members voicing their opposition. Despite the administration’s campaign to portray immigration as a problem caused largely by undocumented immigrants, it had been drawing criticism for the horse-drawn minivan, which many critics, including Del Rio Tea Party Coalition’s Victor Manuel Reyes, asserted was part of the administration’s use of “tragic human rights abuses” as part of its policy.
“It is a human rights violation, a different level of human rights violations, as they are kicking out the horses to allow these little, six-foot, three-year-old, 100-pound cats, to come in and guard the border,” Mr. Reyes said.
US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Michael Friel told The Times that the government has been pushing to phase out horse carts and carriages at crossings for several years. The horse-drawn trucks were an “anomaly,” he added, in an effort to mitigate a phenomenon that the U.S. military was acknowledging was becoming increasingly difficult to monitor and control, as well as harmful to the environment.
“All of our regular vehicle traffic goes through manned checkpoints,” Mr. Friel said. “Traffic at the bus and truck stops, in most cases, is not at a minimum crossing situation, because these are vehicles in which there are not significant flows of traffic or people. And we can’t have the same number of agents on board checking the traveling public. The horses can’t do that and aren’t as easy to spot.”
According to Mr. Friel, the government has tried to “re-allocate [the horses] to other causes that suit them better,” including making them into ferries to ferry tourists over the Rio Grande. But that idea did not pan out. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom referred to horse carts on the border as the “humanitarian version of horse-drawn carriages.”
It is not the first time administration officials have acknowledged the strategy for dealing with the perceived problem of illegal immigration. In 2017, when Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to explain what she called the “very unfortunate outcome” of CBP pursuing a policy of “not looking at them,” a lawmaker pointed out that even the U.S. military had come to the same conclusion. A year before, Secretary Nielsen had raised the “very complex issue of horses at the border” as one of the high-priority issues for DHS. In 2017, a CBP audit found that the agency had used horses and carriages at least 350 times, and likely far more.
The White House declined to comment to The Times on Friday about whether the administration will reconsider its decision to stop using horses at the border crossing.