The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general “declined” to investigate the conduct of mounted Border Patrol agents who in September were photographed in close confrontations with Haitian migrants at the Mexican border near Del Rio, Texas, DHS said Tuesday.
While the DHS statement, characterized as an investigative “update,” did not elaborate on the inspector general’s decision, a person familiar with the matter said an inquiry would have been launched if the conduct involved allegations of possible criminal activity.
No such allegations were included when the case was referred to the inspector general for consideration, said the person, who is not authorized to comment publicly.
Two months after the incident, DHS said Tuesday that the incident, which drew widespread condemnation, is the subject of a separate agency inquiry headed by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The investigative update comes after Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a House panel in September that an investigation would be completed within days.
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According to the DHS statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection initially referred the incident to the inspector general, adding that the agency watchdog “declined to investigate and referred the matter back to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.”
“OPR then immediately commenced investigative work, including its review of videos and photographs and the interview of witnesses, employees, and CBP leadership,” DHS said. “OPR has followed customary process in its investigation of this matter.
“DHS remains committed to conducting a thorough, independent, and objective investigation. DHS will share information, as available, consistent with the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and individuals’ privacy.”
Shortly after the incident, Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee that an undisclosed number of agents had been placed on administrative duty as investigators examined the actions of some mounted agents as they confronted Haitian migrants.
“I want to assure you that we are addressing this with tremendous speed and tremendous force,” Mayorkas said told lawmakers in September. “The facts will drive the action we take … It will be completed in days – not weeks.”
Images of the mounted agents driving migrants back across the Rio Grande prompted national condemnation.
Mayorkas said then that the actions were “met with our nation’s horror because they do not represent who we are as a country.”
At the time, the secretary said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility would be handling the examination and that the agency’s inspector general had been notified.
“The investigation will be all-encompassing; we will not cut a single corner,” Mayorkas said. “It will be a sweeping investigation.”
Some advocates have expressed disappointment over how DHS has handled the situation.
Taisha Saintil, legislative and communications director for the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said she is “heartbroken” but not “surprised” by Tuesday’s update to the investigation. She criticized Mayorkas for initially saying the investigation would be completed in days, but noted it’s been roughly two months since those comments.
Saintil also expressed doubt over the transparency of the investigation, as a CBP internal office will be investigating CBP agents.
“We don’t have any faith in this investigation,” she said. “It just really saddened us that this is where we are at this point in time.”
Breanne Palmer, interim director of policy and advocacy at UndocuBlack Network, said the public will likely not see the results of the investigation now that it was moved to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and that it’s unclear whether there will be disciplinary action. Palmer said there was “no sign of any systemic approach” to addressing the treatment of migrants, in particular Black migrants.
“There will be no improvements to the experiences of people who encounter ICE and CBP and DHS at the border,” she said.
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