The Department of Homeland Security said the Office of Inspector General refused to probe a September incident in which Border Patrol agents on horseback confronted migrants trying to enter the United States as thousands of largely Haitian refugees gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge.
Instead, DHS said Tuesday, OIG bounced the matter to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which “immediately commenced investigative work, including its review of videos and photographs and the interview of witnesses, employees, and CBP leadership,” and is still conducting its investigation.
OPR “has followed customary process in its investigation of this matter,” and “once completed, the results of the investigation will be provided to CBP management to determine whether disciplinary action is appropriate and, if so, the specific discipline to be imposed,” DHS said in a statement. “At that time, the employees will be afforded due process, including an opportunity to respond, and any corrective actions will comport with applicable laws and regulations” and follow timelines established in CBP’s union agreement.
“DHS remains committed to conducting a thorough, independent, and objective investigation,” the department added. “DHS will share information, as available, consistent with the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and individuals’ privacy.”
DHS outlined the investigative steps that could include sharing initial findings with the U.S. Attorney’s Office “to alert federal prosecutors of the facts of the case and ensure that administrative actions do not inadvertently compromise any potential criminal investigation,” and if the U.S. Attorney finds reason to take the case OPR will generally “wait for the completion of the criminal case before conducting interviews of the subjects involved.”
If the U.S. Attorney declines the case, OPR will continue with the last steps of its investigation and determine whether any disciplinary action is warranted.
After the Sept. 19 incident, media outlets released video of agents aggressively interacting with migrants as they tried to stop them from entering the country at the bank of the Rio Grande.
The White House has condemned a video of US Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian migrants.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 21, 2021
“I was horrified by what I saw,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who defended the use of horses by Border Patrol as they work in a challenging environment, said at the time. “I’m going to let the investigation run its course. But the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly. That defies all of the values that we seek to instill in our people.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the crisis “a challenging situation,” adding that “it’s devastating to watch this footage” of the horseback Border Patrol agents.
Asked by a reporter about photos and video showing Border Patrol agents on horseback “seemingly using whips” — confirmed in a separate press conference by Mayorkas to be long reins used to “ensure control of the horse” — Psaki said the footage was “horrible to watch” and she needed more information.
“I can’t imagine what the scenario is where that would be appropriate,” Psaki said. “I’m certainly not suggesting that, but we’ve just seen the footage earlier this morning.”
Mayorkas said DHS was “going to investigate the facts,” while Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would make sure there was not an “unacceptable” response by agents to a difficult operating environment.
DHS said in a statement back then that the department “does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously.” Mayorkas then “directed that personnel from the Office of Professional Responsibility be on site full-time to ensure that the responsibilities of DHS personnel are executed consistent with applicable policies and training and the Department’s values,” DHS added.