McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Ten months after U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback were accused of mistreating migrants under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, the head of the agency said an investigation found fault with the agents’ crowd-control methods and said they used “deeply offensive conduct,” but said they did not “whip” the migrants.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus also said the border agents shouldn’t have taken part in the operation at the request of Texas Department of Public Safety officials.
During a news conference Friday in Washington, D.C., Magnus said an internal investigation conducted by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility was critical of how four Border Patrol agents treated the mostly Haitian migrants, specifically the agents’ use of force to push them across the river back to Mexico, when they were already in the United States.
Photos from Sept. 19, 2021, seemed to show agents on horseback attempting to whip the migrants and using the massive beasts to corral the migrants back across the Rio Grande.
But Magnus said the 500-page report found agents did not strike or whip the migrants, but rather improperly twisted their split reins, which he said will not be standard-issued equipment around large groups of people for future events.
Magnus would not detail specific disciplinary actions taken against the agents, due to personnel privacy rules, but said it could “range from reprimands to termination.” He said the agents have been notified and have a right to appeal.
He also repeatedly said the horse patrol unit was improperly involved in the operation at the behest of Texas DPS officials, and he said it was unauthorized by CBP leadership.
“The horse patrol unit carried out an operation at the request of Texas DPS that directly conflicted with Border Patrol operational objectives. In addition, the Border Patrol supervisor who authorized participation in the operation did not obtain additional guidance from higher up his chain of command,” Magnus said.
His comments further indicate tension between the Biden administration and Texas officials, led by the Gov. Greg Abbott, who have increasingly taken border security into their own hands.
On Thursday, Abbott ordered DPS troopers and Texas National Guard troops to apprehend and transport migrants back to the border and to drop them at ports of entry.
These ports of entry are staffed by CBP officers, and it is unclear whether federal officials will need to change their operations to accommodate busloads of migrants dropped at the base of international bridges or land ports.
The White House has condemned Abbott’s latest actions, which are part of his $4 billion Operation Lone Star border security initiative, which includes a state-built section of border wall in rural Starr County.
In a statement, the White House told KXAN that Operation Lone Star “put National Guardsmen and law enforcement in dangerous situations that created a logistical nightmare that was in need of federal rescue.”
On Friday, Magnus made clear that the Biden administration believes immigration enforcement is under the purview of federal law enforcement officials, like CBP and Border Patrol, not state agencies like the Texas DPS. And he said when states, like Texas, take on this role, they muddy operations aimed at reducing illegal immigration.
“We stand ready to work with Texas to achieve these goals but the challenge is when any state, such as Texas, takes unilateral action it makes it harder to do this,” Magnus said.
Magnus said they are reviewing whether to use the horse patrol unit for crowd-control in the future, and he vowed that agents on horseback will be better trained for all future operations.
He also admitted the investigation took way too long — which he blamed on prosecutors taking five months to decide not to pursue criminal charges. And he admitted that not everyone will agree with the findings.
“Not everyone’s going to like the findings but the investigation was comprehensive and fair. The situation in Del Rio at time of incident was chaotic and unprecedented. It’s clear that decisions made by some of the agency’s leadership and the lack of all appropriate polices and training all contributed to the incident but there is no justification for the actions of some of our personnel that included unprofessional and deeply offensive conduct,” Magnus said.