Border Patrol agents on horseback did not whip or strike migrants with their reins during a mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021. Customs and Border Protection officials released the findings of an Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigation on Friday. In addition to training and policy changes, the findings will still be used to pursue formal disciplinary actions against four mounted agents.
The announcement and release of the investigative report comes nearly nine months after the incidents in question. The investigation began shortly after the September 2021 incident near an outdoor encampment under a bridge holding roughly 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants. Ultimately, more than 30,000 migrants entered the United States in Del Rio in what would become the largest mass migration event in the agency’s history.
Activities conducted by Border Patrol agents during the migration event were captured on video and still photography by freelance journalist Paul Ratje. The images were widely circulated and sparked claims that agents were whipping migrants. Further examination, however, led many to concede the images showed agents using long reins to control the horses.
In a subsequent news interview, Ratje told a reporter, “I’ve never seen them whip anyone.” Ratje added, “He was swinging [the reins], but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.”
President Joe Biden abruptly condemned the actions during a press conference: “It’s horrible what you see, what you saw, to see people treated like they did, horses really running them over, people being strapped. I promise you; those people will pay.”
The investigation concluded that there were failures at multiple levels of the agency, such as a lack of appropriate training and dangerous behavior by several agents. The investigation found no evidence that agents struck any person with reins.
The findings show that Border Patrol failed to appropriately task, supervise, and exercise command over the Horse Patrol Units in Del Rio. According to the report, the Texas Department of Public Safety had requested the Horse Patrol in an operation along the Rio Grande.
The report asserts several agents used force or the threat of force to attempt to drive migrants back into the Rio Grande towards the U.S.-Mexico Border. No evidence is presented to show that any migrants were ultimately forced to return to Mexico or denied entry to the United States.
The report notes multiple instances in which agents acted inappropriately during the incident, including one who was found to have used denigrating language while aggressively maneuvering his horse near a child.
CBP convened a Discipline Review Board (DRB) to consider the individual conduct of four agents involved in the incident and has proposed disciplinary actions. The four agents have been performing administrative duties since the investigation began.
Under the Border Patrol’s collective bargaining agreement, the agents will now be afforded the right to contest the findings.
According to a source within CBP not authorized to speak to media, the employees are facing a suspension without pay for fewer than 14 days.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.