U.S. Customs and Border Protection has referred four agents to a Discipline Review Board for the 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, but found no evidence in the agency’s internal investigation that any of the migrants were whipped by horse reins.
After the Sept. 19 incident, media outlets released video of agents aggressively interacting with migrants, including twirling reins, as they tried to stop them from entering the country at the bank of the Rio Grande.
CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility initially asked the Office of Inspector General to probe the incident involving the Carrizo Springs Station Horse Patrol Unit, but OIG bounced the matter back to OPR. DHS promised at the time that “the employees will be afforded due process, including an opportunity to respond, and any corrective actions will comport with applicable laws and regulations.” OPR also presented the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas on Sept. 29 and were told March 11 that the office would not prosecute those involved.
Upon releasing OPR’s report today, CBP said the investigation included “more than 30 interviews with eyewitnesses, agents involved directly and indirectly with the incident, U.S. Border Patrol leadership and CBP officials.” Investigators reviewed video, photos, and documents related to the incident. The Texas Department of Public Safety was “fully cooperative with OPR’s investigation into the actions of the mounted BPAs,” the report said, but “its personnel involved in the incident declined to provide any information when asked about the operational objectives of TXDPS.”
OPR notes that “at no time on September 19, 2021, was it the operational objective of the USBP to prevent migrants from moving freely in either direction across the Rio Grande River near the boat ramp,” because “due to the lack of resources and extreme heat, USBP made an operational decision to allow the migrants to move back and forth across the Rio Grande River, as needed, to obtain food, water, and other necessities.” By that day, “approximately 15,000 Haitian migrants had crossed the border from Mexico into the United States and were concentrated in an encampment underneath the international bridge connected to the Del Rio POE and in the surrounding areas.”
But OPR determined for that about 15 minutes on Sept. 19 agents were trying to impede migrant movement. “Instead of processing migrants for admission or directing them to an area where thousands of individuals already awaited, multiple mounted BPAs used force, or threats of force, to coerce or compel individuals to return to Mexico,” the report said.
At about 12:30 p.m. that day, Texas DPS asked for assistance trying to stop migrant entry at the boat ramp. Most of the crowd that had gathered there was moved toward the Del Rio Port of Entry.
“At some point around this time, a member of the CAR HPU called his HPU supervisor, who was at the incident command post, and asked whether members of the HPU should assist TXDPS with their effort to stop all migrants from crossing into the United States at the boat ramp,” the report stated. “The supervisor told OPR investigators that after being unable to get any additional guidance from the USBP chain of command, he told the HPU members they should proceed because they had been generally instructed to help where needed.”
“During the next phase of the effort which lasted about 15 minutes, CAR HPU members rode their horses to the base of the boat ramp at the river’s edge and actively attempted to prevent migrants from exiting the river on the U.S. side. At this point a confrontation ensued between HPU members and these migrants,” the report continued. “At least two members of the CAR HPU used their horses to forcibly block migrants from exiting the river and chased migrants who had successfully exited the river including grabbing one by the shirt and spinning him around. One of the HPU agents informed OPR investigators he was aware several of the migrants were in possession of tickets USBP had issued to migrants awaiting processing at the Del Rio POE. One of the BPAs used profanity while yelling at a migrant and then pursued him along the river’s edge forcing his horse to narrowly maneuver around a small child. As the situation escalated, one of the two HPU agents involved in the confrontation repeatedly sought guidance from the USBP incident command post via a USBP unrecorded radio channel and was eventually told to allow all the migrants to enter. At this point the HPU agents backed off and allowed the migrants to pass.”
The mounted agents assisted with the objectives of Texas DPS because of “a lack of command, control, and communications,” investigators found, resulting “in the unnecessary use of force against migrants who were attempting to reenter the United States with food.”
“USBP’s utilization of an unmoderated and unrecorded tactical radio frequency to manage this incident contributed to command-and-control deficiencies and impeded OPR’s ability to investigate this matter,” the report added.
Investigators found that the same agent whose horse had to narrowly maneuver around a small child “acted in an unprofessional manner by yelling comments related to a migrant’s national origin and sex, stating in part, ‘Hey! You use your women? This is why your country’s shit, you use your women for this.'” The report added that “at the time the agents used or threatened to use force, the migrants were not threatening” the Border Patrol agents.
“While one agent stated he was giving the migrants a choice of returning to Mexico or being arrested, a second agent could not articulate a reason for his use of force beyond trying to stop them further entering the U.S.,” the report said.
Ultimately, investigators said, there was “no evidence found during this investigation to suggest 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 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 involved in this incident also reported twirling these split reins as a distancing tactic,” the report continued. “OPR interviewed numerous personnel associated with the Horse Patrol program who gave inconsistent answers about whether twirling of split reins for any purpose was included in agency training programs. Similarly, personnel associated with the Horse Patrol program gave inconsistent responses as to whether they were trained, or qualified, to engage in crowd control operations. OPR’s review of HPU training documents did not reveal any specific guidance on twirling of reins for any purpose.”
The Discipline Review Board, which is composed of senior leaders appointed from across CBP and is independent of OPR, will begin the process to review the conduct of four agents proposed for disciplinary action. “In addition, CBP is conducting a review of its current disciplinary process and will make reforms as needed to ensure transparency, consistency, and accountability,” the agency said, promising to make information in the four agents’ disciplinary review public after completion.