Four U.S. customs and border protection workers have been referred for disciplinary review over their treatment of Haitian migrants they tried to push back across the Rio Grande by horseback last September, CBP officials said Friday when the agency released a report on the widely photographed incident.
Chris Magnus, CBP commissioner, said at a news conference that the disciplinary process related to the incident on September 19 was underway, and he did not identify the employees.
Reuters witnesses at the time saw mounted officers with cowboy hats blocking the paths of migrants, and one officer unfolding horse bridles that looked like a lariat, which he swung near a man’s face while the man ate a bag over carried the Rio Grande to a temporary camp. in the United States. The images caused a strong nationwide setback and called for an investigation.
Magnus added the report says no migrants were beaten with the reins that agents were photographed swinging in their direction. But the report outlined the agents’ inappropriate behavior toward Haitians, including the shouting of blasphemy and insults related to a migrant’s national origin, and the use of unnecessary force against migrants trying to return the United States with food .
The investigation found that one agent grabbed a man on horseback and threw him around in a widely photographed incident, which took place near a sprawling river camp in Del Rio, Texas, which formed after the rapid arrival of thousands of Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border.
According to the report, one agent “acted in an unsafe manner by chasing the individual he was shouting at along the river bank and forcing his horse to maneuver a small child now.”
Lack of clear instruction
The incident occurred, according to the report, when officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety also asked for help from the U.S. Border Patrol at the scene. A lack of clear command resulted in the agents improperly following DPS instructions to prevent migrants from crossing the river to the United States.
Migrants regularly crossed into Mexico to bring back food and supplies that were scarce in the temporary camp.
Lawyers and migrants suing the government over their treatment during the incident said the Haitian man in the photos widely seen described the mounted officer grabbing his neck and releasing him just as the horse was about to trample him.
He called the experience in a court case degrading.
“We are already taking steps to ensure that a situation like the one that happened in Del Rio does not happen again,” Magnus said during the news conference.
Of the approximately 15,000 Haitians who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in September, about 8,000 were quickly expelled in the weeks that followed under a COVID-era order known as Title 42.
The findings come as U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has wrestled both operationally and politically with a record number of attempts to cross at the southwestern border with Mexico. Republicans criticized Biden for trying to reverse some of the harsh immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, while some members of Biden’s own party said he was not doing enough to protect vulnerable migrants.
The border patrol arrested nearly 223,000 migrants at the southwestern border in May, the highest monthly total on record. Haitians made up about 7,700 of that figure, with several thousand more attempting to cross at ports of entry without valid permission.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said he had authorized the Texas National Guard and state authorities to “catch” migrants and transport them to the border at a port of entry with Mexico.
In a statement, the state’s national guard said it was “working with our inter-agency partners to respond to illegal immigration.”
Some migrants rode buses
Abbott’s order was the latest in a series of immigration repression measures in the state, which previously included the transportation of migrants from the state to destinations such as Washington.
Magnus said CBP “has a shared interest” with Texas “in maintaining a secure, orderly human immigration process” at the border, but said problems arise when any state “takes unilateral action.”
CBP recently said it would investigate whether anyone from the agency sold unofficial memorial coins depicting the widely publicized photo of the incident under investigation. Magnus said in an earlier statement that the “hateful images” on the “deeply offensive” coins angered him and distracted him from the necessary work of the Border Patrol.