CBP Finds No Evidence of Whipping Migrants, But Says Agents Acted Inappropriately

An investigation found that Border Patrol agents on horseback did not whip migrants, but disciplinary action has been proposed for inappropriate behavior on the part of some agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has released its findings from an investigation conducted over the infamous horseback whipping incident in which it was alleged that CBP agents had whipped some Haitian migrants while riding horses along the southern border.

The investigation took place over an incident that took place in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. Agents there were responding to what CBP described as an “unprecedented surge” in the number of migrants attempting to enter the United States at one location. According to CBP:

Over the course of several days, U.S. Border Patrol Agents processed, screened, and vetted more than 30,000 migrants by the international bridge. Agents worked with officials from other federal agencies and non-profit organizations to provide food, hygiene supplies, COVID-19 testing, and medical care to address the humanitarian needs of those attempting to migrate, many of whom included families with young children. The Border Patrol faced extraordinary challenges in responding to the larger situation in Del Rio.

A photo taken of the alleged incident sparked widespread outrage after the story broke, including from President Biden who said, “It’s outrageous. I promise you those people [Border Patrol agents] will pay.”

However, Paul Ratje, the photographer who took the photos, said that the images were being misconstrued. He told KTSM News, “I’ve never seen them [Border Patrol agents] whip anyone. He [the agent on the horse] was swinging it, but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.”

CBP seemed to confirm this with its investigation. The agency stated, “The investigation found no evidence that agents struck any person with horse reins.”

However, it did state that “there were failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual [Border Patrol] Agents.”

The agency stated:

Several Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to attempt to drive migrants back into the Rio Grande River towards the U.S.-Mexico border, though there is no evidence that any migrants were forced to return to Mexico or denied entry to the United States. Additionally, the Office of Professional Responsibility found multiple instances in which Agents acted inappropriately during the incident, including one Border Patrol Agent who was found to have used denigrating and inappropriate language and to have maneuvered his horse unsafely near a child.

The agency has initiated a Discipline Review Board to review the individual conduct of agents involved in the incident and has proposed disciplinary action for four agents which it said is consistent with agency policy. That process is currently underway and is separate from the the fact finding investigation of the incident. CBP will make the results of the disciplinary process public once it concludes.

CBP also said that corrective action is being taken to fix organizational and management issues identified in the report. These include changes to practices, training, and operational methods to address management failures that contributed to the incident, stricter limits on the use of the horse patrol, and strengthening leadership and agency accountability.

According to CBP data, the number of encounters at the southern border increased 279% from fiscal year 2020 to 2021, going from 458,088 in FY 2020 to 1,734,686 in FY 2021. So far in FY 2022, there have been 1,536,899 encounters as of the end of May.

Chart and table showing the number of land encounters with migrants on southwest border for FY 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 (through May) as reported by CBP data

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.