U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback engaged in “unnecessary use of force” against non-threatening Haitian immigrants but didn’t whip any with their reins “intentionally or otherwise,” according to a federal investigation of chaotic scenes along the Texas-Mexico border last fall that sparked widespread condemnation.
In a 511-page report released Friday, Customs and Border Protection blamed a “lack of command control and communication” for mounted agents using their horses to forcibly block and move migrants during an influx of Haitians arriving last September to the U.S. border outside Del Rio, Texas.
Video and photos of the incident made it appear agents were whipping Haitians, which caused outrage among advocacy groups and civil rights leaders. The Biden administration promised a full investigation after many in the president’s own party objected that such tactics with racial overtones were the kinds of policies the U.S. was supposed to be moving away from after years of hardline immigration tactics under President Donald Trump.
As part of the investigation, four Border Patrol employees — all of whom have been placed on administrative duty since the investigation began months ago — have been recommended for disciplinary action which will come separately, according to senior CBP officials who briefed journalists before the report’s release.
By September 19, 2021, around 15,000 Haitian migrants had crossed from Mexico into the United States and were concentrated in an encampment underneath the international bridge. But the encampment was fully cleared within days after the incident, as the outcry mounted.
Federal investigators said no migrant was struck with a whip, forced to return to Mexico or denied entry into the U.S. during the 15 minutes that they were forcibly blocked and moved by mounted agents. One agent yelled inappropriate comments about a migrant’s national origin including, “You use your women” while also narrowly missing a child walking nearby while pursuing a migrant.
The use of force drove migrants back into the Rio Grande, despite their having been well within U.S. territory and not presenting threats in any way, according to the senior CBP officials.
Investigators said they did not speak to Haitian migrants while preparing the investigation but used statements and court documents that some provided as part of lawsuits they filed against U.S. authorities.
The report said the incident began after authorities from a state agency also working in the area, the Texas Department of Public Safety, requested help from federal authorities. That conclusion follows Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week authorizing state forces to apprehend migrants and return them to the U.S.-Mexico border — raising questions about his state’s enforcement powers as top GOP leaders have slammed the Biden administration for failing to curb the rising number of crossings.
Agents acted with the permission of their supervisor who was unable to get guidance from higher up the Border Patrol chain of command, the report said. Communication occurred on a radio channel that wasn’t recorded, further complicating investigation into the incident.