DHS watchdog declined to probe ‘whipping’ claims against border agents

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DHS watchdog declined to probe 'whipping' claims against border agents

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) declined to investigate allegations that border agents used whips against Haitian migrants earlier this year — punting the investigation to Customs and Border Protection months after the Biden administration vowed a probe would only take “days.”

DHS revealed Tuesday that CBP originally referred the matter to the department’s watchdog, which decided not to pursue it. Instead, the OIG referred the issue to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which immediately “commenced investigative work.” The investigation appears to be ongoing. 

It is unclear when the DHS watchdog declined to investigate the claims. The department did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for clarification.

According to DHS, the CBP office has been reviewing videos and photos as well as interviewing witnesses, employees and agency leadership in their investigation. 

“OPR has followed customary process in its investigation of this matter,” the statement from DHS read. “Once complete, the results of the investigation will be provided to CBP management to determine whether disciplinary action is appropriate and, if so, the specific discipline to be imposed.” 

The investigation is looking into whether Border Patrol agents on horseback used split reins to “whip” Haitian migrants as they attempted to cross into the US near Del Rio, Texas. Images of the incident initially caused outrage on social media, with some going as far as to compare the agents’ actions to those of slave-catchers in the antebellum South. 

United States Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.
The Office of Inspector General declined to investigate allegations that border agents used whips against Haitian migrants.
PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

However, other witnesses have defended the agents and said no one whipped anyone.

“Some of the Haitian men started running, trying to go around the horses, and that’s kind of when the whole thing happened,” photographer Paul Ratije told KTSM at the time.

“I didn’t ever see them whip anybody, with the thing,” he said of the reins. “He was swinging it. But I didn’t see him actually take — whip someone with it. That’s something that can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.” 

United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.
Witnesses have said that no one was whipped by the agents.
PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

In the days that followed, President Biden vowed to make the agents involved “pay” for their actions, though some officials speculated they would only get minimal punishment given the lack of evidence. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed in September that Border Patrol agents involved were assigned to desk duty while the incident is investigated with “tremendous speed and with tremendous force.”

That same week, Mayorkas said the investigation would be completed within a “matter of days, not weeks.” 

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback spins a rope as he tries to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021
President Biden vowed to make the agents involved “pay” for their actions.
Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

Mayorkas was confronted about the matter Tuesday by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“What about the issue with your Border Patrol agents recently being accused by some folks in the media of whipping illegal immigrants, when in fact they were not?” Lee asked. “Why on earth did you not defend them? Has no one in your entire department ever become aware of how one uses split reins when riding a horse?”

“I stand with the men and women of our department through and through,” Mayorkas answered, “and I will not prejudge facts before –“

“Did you defend them when they were being attacked for whipping people, which they were not?” Lee interrupted.

“Senator, what I said quite clearly is that the independent investigation will determine the facts, and those facts will drive the outcome. Nothing less and nothing more.”

“Your response and your failure to defend them, then and now, is nothing short of morale-crushing,” Lee said. “If you want to maintain, or obtain, operational control of the border — which you do not now have — this is not a way to get there.”

“DHS remains committed to conducting a thorough, independent, and objective investigation,” the Department said Tuesday. “DHS will share information, as available, consistent with the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and individuals’ privacy.”

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