By Amy Berberyan and Tashayia George
DEL RIO, TEXAS –Border Patrol agents (BPAs) didn’t strike migrants but did behave inappropriately, according to a Department of Homeland Security report released this week.
On Sept. 19 of last year, controversial photos showed U.S. BPAs “swinging reins” and “screaming obscenities” at Haitian families along the riverbank in Del Rio, TX. The following day, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) launched an investigation.
The incident, which “lasted approximately 30 minutes,” involved a group of BPAs and Texas state troopers scattering a large group of migrants gathered along the Rio Grande River, the report notes.
While attempting to return to the encampment, several migrants were “forced back into the river” or “pursued by mounted BPA,” the OPR confirming, citing one instance that involved “a BPA [grabbing] a migrant by his shirt and [spinning] him around.”
President Biden and Democrats reacted angrily to images and video of the altercation, accusing the officers of whipping the migrants and comparing the incident to the gruesome vision of American slavery. According to Biden, the migrants had been “strapped,” and punishment would be administered after a prompt investigation.
The Office of Professional Responsibility at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which serves as the organization’s internal affairs division, concluded in a 511-page report that no migrants were hurt or had their legal right to apply for asylum in the United States rejected after nearly nine months had passed.
Still, the agents’ use of unwarranted force and their choice to support Texas state troopers in their attempt to prevent the migrants ran counter to the goals of the Border Patrol, according to the study.
A statement from CBP states that the internal assessment discovered “failures at several levels of the agency, a lack of adequate regulations and training, and unprofessional and dangerous actions by several individual officers.”
Federal prosecutors would not bring criminal charges.
According to CBP, however, findings have been forwarded to a CBP disciplinary review board and a senior agency official will decide what punishment will be imposed on the agents. Following the incident, the agents were transferred to administrative responsibilities.
At the time, Biden explained how horrible the incident was and promised “those people [the agents] will pay.”
The scenes “evoked images of some of the worst moments of our history, where that kind of behavior has been used against the Indigenous people of our country, has been used against African Americans during times of slavery,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during an appearance on ABC’s “The View.”
Although no one was seen being struck in the video, some agents behaved in ways that were inappropriate for their position, the report confirmed. In one incident recorded by Al Jazeera and shared widely on social media, an agent confronted a man whose family was carrying supplies.
This agent yelled, “Hey! This is why your country’s shit! You use your women for this” According to the Department of Homeland Security report, he also pursued a man “along the river’s edge[,] forcing his horse to narrowly maneuver around a small child.”
The report states that, “despite the actions taken by the BPAs during this incident, there was no evidence found during this investigation to suggest that any migrant was ultimately forced to return to Mexico or denied entry into the United States.
“There is no evidence that BPAs involved in this incident struck, intentionally or otherwise, any migrant with their reins,” the report continued. “The horses involved in this incident were equipped with split reins which can be twirled by the rider to guide the horse’s movements.”
One BPA reported using these split reins as a distancing tactic rather than an offensive one.
CBP commissioner Chris Magnus told investigators to ignore anything that was said outside of work.
The incident happened at a time when the Border Patrol was under a lot of stress. Thousands of migrants, largely from Haiti, crossed the Rio Grande over the course of many weeks, camped beneath a border bridge and constructed improvised huts out of vegetation.
The study said migrants were given colored paper tickets to indicate their arrival times. The Border Patrol permitted migrants and vendors to pass back and forth into Mexico for supplies as the camp’s water supply began to run short. Families who crossed were attempting to show their tickets to agents.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a vocal opponent of Biden’s immigration policies, had instructed Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers to create a “steel wall” pattern blocking off a more dangerous river crossing point. The Border Patrol agreed with this decision.
This popular crossing point involved a weir dam, which alters the flow of the river and “creates deadly conditions for anyone who falls in,” according to the report.
With this path blocked off, migrants “were forced” to cross the east side of the Del Rio river with “a public park [located] on the Mexican side and a boat ramp [located] on the U.S. side.” This area was where the incident occurred.
On Sept. 19 2021, bathing migrants attempting to reenter the U.S. were blocked by Texas state troopers. The audit revealed that supervisors instructed federal Border Patrol agents to aid the state troopers.
According to the study, when asked whether their forceful rein-swinging was in line with CBP training, the horse patrol agents provided “inconsistent answers.” Additionally, it said that when questioned about how they had prepared for crowd control events and activities, they gave varying answers.
After the Biden administration started flying many of the migrants from the camp back to Haiti in accordance with the government’s pandemic-related Title 42 public health policy, the Del Rio crisis came to an end. Four agents were sanctioned with unpaid leave or a letter stating improper conduct.
The top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Katko of New York, criticized the report’s conclusions and attributed the incident to Biden.
Katko said, “This report is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the Biden administration to justify their initial knee jerk rush to judgment that these Border Patrol agents were guilty of misconduct.”
“Thus, they set out on a mission to save face and make an example out of these Border Patrol agents,” he added, “who were only attempting to manage the untenable humanitarian and security crisis President Biden handed down to them.”
The Border Patrol union accused the Biden administration of “rank hypocrisy” on Twitter.