Posted on July 11, 2022

Review Finds Agents Used Unnecessary Force Against Black Migrants

Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, New York Times, July 8, 2022

Border Patrol agents on horseback used “unnecessary” force in September against Black migrants who crossed into Del Rio, Texas, en masse, amid a humanitarian crisis that exposed the Biden administration’s struggle to manage a record number of southwestern border crossings.

In the absence of clear instructions from their supervisors, the agents took commands from the Texas state police and improperly “used force or the threat of force” to drive migrants back into the Rio Grande.

These findings and others came from an extensive review of the events of Sept. 19, when about 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants had gathered in squalid conditions underneath a bridge in Del Rio after crossing into the country from Mexico. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility released a more than 500-page report on Friday. Notably, investigators found no evidence to corroborate allegations from migrants and others that agents used horses’ reins to whip the migrants.

But images from that day of federal agents corralling Black migrants in and around the Rio Grande continue to draw international condemnation. Some accused the United States of discriminating against Black migrants in its immigration system, which the administration has denied.

One of the images was imprinted on an unofficial Border Patrol commemorative coin, known as a “challenge” coin. The agency denounced the creation of the coin, and the Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating its origin.

While four agents are facing disciplinary action for the events of that day, the report disclosed deeper problems within the agency on the front lines of a border crisis that continues to challenge the Biden administration.

Among those issues are the conflicting objectives between federal and local officers, a situation that is poised to get worse after Texas on Thursday ordered even more local law enforcement involvement in enforcing immigration laws.

Chris Magnus, the C.B.P. commissioner, said during a news conference on Friday that the agency has made clear to its agents that they should take orders only from their own supervisors.

The White House on Friday condemned Texas’s latest order as another political stunt brought by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who often clashes with Mr. Biden.

“The immigration enforcement is a federal authority, and states should not be mandating it — meddling in it,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Friday.

The horse patrol unit that rushed the Black migrants was carrying out a request from the Texas Department of Public Safety, rather than Border Patrol senior leadership, exposing the lack of federal oversight over border enforcement.

A local Border Patrol supervisor approved of the request from Texas authorities without securing approval from federal leadership. The decision to carry out the operation “resulted in unnecessary use of force against migrants who were attempting to re-enter the United States with food,” the report said.


Mr. Magnus said one particularly denigrating comment stood out. One of the agents on horseback was recorded telling a Haitian migrant, “This is why your country’s shit because you use your women for this.”


As more and more migrants were crossing into Del Rio in the days before Sept. 19, the Border Patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, called for all available horse units to be at the river’s edge, where migrants were crossing, “as a show of force and for crowd control,” the report said.


Mr. Magnus said on Friday that the policy moving forward would be not to use horses for crowd control without the explicit approval of the C.B.P. commissioner. {snip}


The four agents facing discipline have been moved to administrative positions. Mr. Magnus declined to describe the recommended disciplinary action because the review and appeal process was continuing.

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 Border Patrol union president, Brandon Judd, said that if any punishments were handed down, the agents would appeal.

“Through the due process,” Mr. Judd said, “we will be able to show that this is nothing more than political theater by executive branch employees to cover for a president who had no business or right to pass judgment prior to a proper investigation.”