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- Investigation centered on 2021 incident with horse reins
- “CBP must and will do better,” Secretary Mayorkas says
Border Patrol agents on horseback used unnecessary force when pursuing Haitian migrants in Texas last year, US Customs and Border Protection announced Friday.
CBP launched the investigation after images emerged of mounted agents wielding reins while attempting to apprehend migrants last September in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of Haitians gathered to seek entry to the US. The investigation didn’t find evidence of agents striking migrants with their reins, intentionally or otherwise.
“On multiple occasions, mounted BPAs used force or threat of force to drive migrants back into the Rio Grande River despite the fact that they were well within the territorial boundary of the United States,” the report found. CBP also noted multiple instances of agents acting “inappropriately,” including using denigrating language and unsafely maneuvering a horse near a child.
Disciplinary proceedings are continuing, Commissioner Chris Magnus said during a press briefing Friday. CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility last year referred the incident to a US attorney’s office, which declined to pursue the matter. Magnus said the US attorney’s review contributed to the length of the investigation.
“The misconduct of several individuals does not reflect the brave and distinguished service of the Agents of the United States Border Patrol,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Friday. “The organizational failures of policy, procedures, and training that the investigation identified were a disservice to the Agents and the public they serve. CBP must and will do better.”
The images of the treatment of Haitians last September swiftly drew comparisons with the historic whipping of enslaved people in the US, prompting an uproar over the Biden administration’s treatment of border-crossers, especially Black migrants.
President Joe Biden at the time said the agents involved “will pay” for menacing the migrants, and Mayorkas vowed an investigation would conclude within days. The union that represents Border Patrol agents swiftly condemned the remarks as “ignorant and derogatory.”
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, cast doubt on Friday’s report, calling it an attempt by the Biden administration to justify their initial outrage over the Del Rio images.
“They set out on a mission to save face and make an example out of these Border Patrol agents, who were only attempting to manage the untenable humanitarian and security crisis President Biden handed down to them,” he said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security, which includes CBP, launched a new law enforcement oversight council last year to review use-of-force policies and training among agents throughout the department. DHS has more law enforcement officers than any other federal agency.
CBP on Friday outlined several steps it’s taking to avoid future incidents like Del Rio, including updating policies for incident command, horse patrols, crowd control, radio communication, and legal curriculum. For agents on horseback, the agency will prohibit the “the use of twirling or spinning the reins as a distancing or crowd control technique.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at email@example.com