Review finds agents used unnecessary force against black migrants
WASHINGTON – Border guards on horseback used “unnecessary” force in September against black migrants who crossed into Del Rio, Texas, en masse, amid a humanitarian crisis that revealed the Biden administration’s struggle to deal with a record number of southwestern border crossings.
In the absence of clear instructions from their superiors, agents took orders from the Texas State Police and mistakenly “used force or threat of force” to drive migrants back to the Rio Grande.
These findings and others came from a comprehensive review of the events of September 19, when about 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants had gathered under miserable conditions under a bridge in Del Rio after crossing into the country from Mexico. The Customs and the Border Guard’s office for professional responsibility published a report of more than 500 pages on Friday. In particular, investigators found no evidence to confirm allegations by migrants and others that agents used horse harnesses to whip migrants.
But images from that day of federal agents gathering black migrants in and around the Rio Grande continue to draw international condemnation. Some accused the United States of discriminating against black migrants in their immigration system, which the administration has denied.
One of the pictures was printed on an unofficial border patrol commemorative coin, known as a “challenge coin”. The agency condemned the creation of the coin, and the Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the origin.
While four agents are facing disciplinary action for the incidents that day, the report revealed deeper problems in the agency on the front lines of a border crisis that continues to challenge the Biden administration.
Among these issues are the conflicting goals between federal and local officers, a situation that is set to get worse after Texas on Thursday ordered even more local police involvement in enforcing immigration laws.
Chris Magnus, the CBP commissioner, said during a press conference on Friday that the agency has made it clear to its agents that they will only accept orders from their own supervisors.
The White House on Friday condemned Texas’ latest order as another political stunt by Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who often clashes with Mr. Biden.
“Immigration enforcement is a federal authority, and states should not impose it – interfere in it,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House spokeswoman, Friday.
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The horse patrol unit that rushed the black migrants made a request from the Texas Department of Public Safety, instead of Border Patrol senior management, revealing the lack of federal oversight of border enforcement.
A local border patrol leader approved the request from the Texas government without securing approval from the federal leadership. The decision to carry out the operation “resulted in unnecessary use of force against migrants who tried to re-enter the United States with food,” the report said.
“It is clear from the investigation that decisions made by some of the agency’s management, and the lack of appropriate guidelines and training, all contributed to the incident,” Magnus said. “But there is no justification for the actions of any of our employees, including unprofessional and deeply offensive behavior.”
Mr. Magnus said that a particularly degrading comment stood out. One of the agents on horseback was quoted as saying to a Haitian migrant: “This is why your country is crap because you use your women for this.”
Mr. Magnus said that the same agent, who is one of the four facing discipline, steered his horse dangerously close to a child while pursuing the migrant he had yelled at.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said the agency reviewed the report and declined to comment on the findings.
As more and more migrants crossed into Del Rio in the days before September 19, the border patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, asked that all available horse units be at the riverbank, where the migrants crossed, “as a demonstration of power. and for audience control, the report states.
Investigators were told that many of the agents on horseback had undergone little or no training in controlling the public and did not have clear instructions on their operational objectives.
“To me, this is less about the individual agents, although they should be held accountable for the specific unprofessional actions they took, but the management’s inability to handle a situation that was very overwhelming for the patrol at the time,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown. Executive Director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Mr. Magnus said Friday that the policy going forward would be not to use horses for audience control without the explicit approval of the CBP commissioner. Mr. Ortiz was not at the press conference on Friday, but he told investigators he took responsibility for what happened on September 19.
The news conference about the findings from the investigation was unusual. In general, CBP does not publish the conclusions of these internal assessments. However, during his confirmation hearing in October, Mr. Magnus promised openness and accountability on this report and other matters.
The four agents facing discipline have been transferred to administrative positions. Magnus refused to describe the recommended disciplinary action because the assessment and appeal process continued.
At the time, President Biden promised that “those people will pay,” referring to the agents involved, which raised immediate concerns among some that it would not be a fair investigation.
The president of the Border Patrol Union, Brandon Judd, said that if any punishment was imposed, the agents would appeal.
“Through the just process,” said Mr. Judd, “we will be able to show that this is nothing but political theater of employees in executive branches to cover a president who had no business or right to judge. before a proper investigation. “
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary for Homeland Security, whose agency includes CBP, said that “the abuse of several individuals does not reflect the courageous and excellent service of the agents of the US Border Patrol.” Mr. Mayorkas initially promised that the investigation would take weeks, but it took almost 10 months.
Some border patrol agents have been candid about their aversion to Mr. Mayorka’s and the Biden administration’s border policy. Morale among agents has been low for several months, as many have been relocated to administrative jobs to help treat the thousands of migrants who have crossed into the country daily.
The Del Rio incident crystallized Mr. Biden’s struggle to deliver on his promise to restore a just and orderly system of treatment of migrants at the border, and even led to accusations that the president had grown to rely on Trump-era restrictions. which had sealed the border to asylum seekers.
The findings of the Del Rio investigation come less than two weeks after another humanitarian crisis, when 51 migrants died after being caught in an abandoned truck in San Antonio, and intensified criticism of the administration.
A record number of border crossings led to criticism from the administration, both from Democrats who say the president has neglected the issue and Republicans who have seized the crisis for political attacks ahead of the midterm elections to Congress.
The lack of quick fixes at the sky-high intersections has also been a source of frustration for Mr. Biden, according to officials familiar with the matter. He has at times criticized his top officials for the slow pace of implementation of new policies and expressed irritation over the inability of Congress to promote immigration legislation, which has been a decade-long problem.
Investigators were unable to interview migrants who were victims of the inappropriate treatment, but an agency official said statements in a civil case against the government brought by some of the migrants were carefully examined and included in the 510-page report.
Since September 19, the administration has flown nearly 25,000 Haitians back to their country, which has been hit by gang violence, aggravated poverty and instability.
Critics have said the administration ignores its own concerns about Haiti’s stability and should not send vulnerable migrants back to the country. In June, the number of expulsion flights to Haiti decreased significantly after an increase in May. And in recent weeks, thousands of Haitians have been allowed into the country under humanitarian exceptions through certain ports of entry on the southwestern border, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak in public.
Guerline M. Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a law firm, said without interviewing the victims of the Del Rio incident that the findings of the internal review “lack any credibility.”
“If CBP is truly committed to the fair and just treatment of all people, as CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus proclaimed today,” she said, “then they must conduct an objective and credible investigation into the excessive force used against Haitian migrants, which begins with interviews of the victims of the abuse and other migrant witnesses. “
J. David Goodman contributed with reporting from Houston.