Report finds ‘unnecessary’ force by agents at Rio Grande

Jul 7, 2022, 10:35 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2022, 8:49 pm
FILE - Mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande f...

FILE - Mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, Sept. 19, 2021. Border Patrol agents on horseback engaged in "unnecessary use of force" against non-threatening Haitian immigrants but didn't whip any with their reins, according to a federal investigation of chaotic scenes along the Texas-Mexico border last fall. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez, File)

(AP Photo/Felix Marquez, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback engaged in “unnecessary use of force” against non-threatening Haitian immigrants but didn’t whip any with their reins “intentionally or otherwise,” according to a federal investigation of chaotic scenes along the Texas-Mexico border last fall that sparked widespread condemnation.

In a 511-page report released Friday, Customs and Border Protection blamed a “lack of command control and communication” for mounted agents using their horses to forcibly block and move migrants during an influx of Haitians arriving last September at the U.S. border outside Del Rio, Texas.

“We’re gonna learn from this incident and we’ll find a way to do better,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said during a news conference announcing the report. “Not everyone’s going to like all the findings but the investigation was comprehensive and fair.”

Video and photos of the incident made it appear agents were whipping Haitians, which caused outrage among advocacy groups and civil rights leaders. The Biden administration promised a full investigation after many in the president’s own party objected that such tactics with racial overtones were the kinds of policies the U.S. was supposed to be moving away from after years of hardline immigration tactics under President Donald Trump.

A former police chief, Magnus took over the nation’s largest law enforcement agency in December and is being watched closely for shepherding the ongoing investigation. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Friday that “the organizational failures of policy, procedures, and training that the investigation identified were a disservice to the agents and the public they serve.”

Last fall, Biden called images of what occurred “horrible” and “outrageous.”

“I promise you, those people will pay,” the president said then. “There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences.”

Asked if the politically charged environment marred the investigation, Magnus said “it was inevitable, certainly not surprising, that there was going to be a reaction to that from the community, from those in the media from elected officials, from different advocacy groups.”

But he said he instructed investigators “that all of these things were to be put aside, to be disregarded.”

“I was counting on them to do a fair, through, comprehensive investigation with no attention to this outside influence,” Magnus said.

By September 19, 2021, around 15,000 Haitian migrants had crossed from Mexico into the United States and were concentrated in an encampment underneath the international bridge.

Magnus said the investigation began the day after the incident and included testimony from more than 30 people, among them witnesses and journalists. Investigators said they were unable to locate Haitian migrants involved to get their accounts — but used statements and court documents that some provided as part of lawsuits they filed against U.S. authorities.

Magnus said four Border Patrol personnel have been recommended for disciplinary action for their conduct, though he declined to discuss exactly what each had done to warrant possible punishment, or elaborate on what sanctions they could face. That comes after prosecutors in April declined to pursue criminal charges, he said.

Disciplinary actions are separate from Friday’s findings and won’t be announced until later. All four CBP officials have been on administrative duty since the investigation began, according to senior agency officials who briefed reporters before Friday’s report was released.

Mark Morgan, a former acting CBP commissioner under Trump, dismissed the entire investigation as politically motivated since no Haitians were actually whipped.

“From the start, these agents have been smeared, lied about, and vilified by nearly everyone on the left,” Morgan said in a statement.

Federal investigators said no migrant was struck with a whip, forced to return to Mexico or denied entry into the U.S. during the approximately 15 minutes that they were forcibly blocked and moved by mounted agents. One agent yelled inappropriate comments about a migrant’s national origin including, “You use your women” while also narrowly missing crashing his horse into a child walking nearby while pursuing a migrant.

Agents acted with the permission of their supervisor, who was unable to get guidance from higher up the Border Patrol chain of command, the report said. Communication occurred on a radio channel that wasn’t recorded, further complicating investigation into the incident.

The use of force drove migrants back into the Rio Grande, despite their having been well within U.S. territory and not presenting threats — which was counter to CBP’s mission, the report found.

It also said the incident began after authorities from a state agency also working in the area at the time, the Texas Department of Public Safety, requested help from federal authorities.

That conclusion follows Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week authorizing state forces to apprehend migrants and return them to the U.S.-Mexico border — raising questions about his state’s enforcement powers as top GOP leaders have slammed the Biden administration for failing to curb the rising number of crossings.

Magnus said Friday that his agency has “a shared interest with Texas” in “maintaining a safe, orderly, humane immigration process,” and that federal officials “stand ready to work with Texas to achieve these goals.”

“But the challenge is, when any state, such as Texas, takes unilateral action, that just makes it harder for us to do this,” he added.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Much of drought-plagued West Coast faces salmon fishing ban

The surreal and desperate scramble boosted the survival rate of the hatchery-raised fish, but still it was not enough to reverse the declining stocks in the face of added challenges.
2 days ago
UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) shoots while defended by Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton (45) in the first half...
Associated Press

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Strawther’s shot

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA's Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 NCAA Tournament win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
2 days ago
Associated Press

Officials: Safety device, human error derailed Wash. train

A safety device failed, knocking a train off the tracks last week, spilling diesel after leaving an oil refinery in Anacortes.
2 days ago
File - Credit cards as seen July 1, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. A low credit score can hurt your ability...
Associated Press

What the Fed rate increase means for your credit card bill

The Federal Reserve raised its key rate by another quarter point Wednesday, bringing it to the highest level in 15 years as part of an ongoing effort to ease inflation by making borrowing more expensive.
3 days ago
police lights distracted drivers shooting...
Associated Press

Authorities: Missing mom, daughter in Washington found dead

A missing Washington state woman and her daughter were found dead Wednesday, according to police.
3 days ago
Associated Press

Google’s artificially intelligent ‘Bard’ set for next stage

Google announced Tuesday it's allowing more people to interact with “ Bard,” the artificially intelligent chatbot the company is building to counter Microsoft's early lead in a pivotal battleground of technology.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Report finds ‘unnecessary’ force by agents at Rio Grande