September 21, 2021

“In the past few days, a large number of migrants—primarily Haitian and seeking asylum and other protection in the United States—have crossed into Del Rio, Texas, to await processing by DHS at a processing center located under an international bridge. On September 18, DHS announced a plan to address the increased number of migrants awaiting immigration processing in the area and began removing some Haitians to their home country the following day.[2] The same day, Border Patrol agents mounted on horseback sought to stop Haitian migrants on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande from entering the encampment, charging families and individuals on the river bank and using abusive language against at least one family.[3] Extensive video and photo documentation shows appalling use of force by agents against migrants. For example, one image shows a mounted Border Patrol agent grabbing a man by the shirt has he stands bare foot with his hands full of food.[4] Video footage showed horse mounted agents again engaging migrants on the banks of the river and in one instance nearly trampling a young child.[5] Another video shows a Border Patrol agent on horseback hitting the water near one man with his lariat before knocking the man back into the water with his horse.[6] The man is carrying what appear to be containers of food.

“On September 20, during a press conference U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz confirmed that Border Patrol Horse Patrol units remain a part of the agency’s “security response.” While Chief Ortiz claimed agents on horseback do not know who coming across the river “are the smugglers and who are the migrants,” videos show mounted agents riding up to families with small children and individuals carrying bags of food. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas went on to claim that long reins seen in footage are used to “ensure control of the horses.”[7]

“…The Constitution prohibits the use of excessive force[12] and requires that use of force by law enforcement be proportional to a threat and escalated only in response to that threat.[13] CBP’s own Use of Force policy also only permits the use of “a reasonable amount of force” when an individual’s entry presents an “imminent threat” to officers, agents, or others.[14]

“Video footage of Border Patrol’s actions in this incident clearly demonstrate that the migrants being encountered by mounted agents did not present an imminent threat. In one video an agent stops a family with small children, makes derogatory and xenophobic comments to the family, and then maneuvers his horse in a way that comes dangerously close to trampling a child.[15] Other footage shows agents wielding lariats and maneuvering their horses in a menacing fashion against individuals carrying food back to the encampment in the United States, traffic across the river the agency was undoubtedly aware of prior to deploying mounted units to the U.S. riverbank.

“In one video, a mounted Border Patrol agent is heard stating “This is why your country’s shit, because you use your women for this!”[16] CBP’s National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (“TEDS”) requires agents to “speak and act with the utmost integrity and professionalism,” “treat all individuals with dignity and respect,” and “perform their duties in a nondiscriminatory manner.”[17] Agents simply did not uphold those standards in this instance.

“Further, DHS policy requires that all agency components–including CBP–“shall have appropriate written policies and procedures regarding the use of authorized control tactics or techniques; authorized less-lethal devices; and necessary training and certifications—both initial and recurring.”[18] Nevertheless, CBP’s Use of Force policy does not include guidelines for the use of mounted horse patrol, despite their potential for causing lethal or non-lethal harm. In fact, Border Patrol’s Horse Patrol Program is consistently described by the agency as necessary for accessing terrain in accessible by vehicles, not as a tool of deterrence or use of force against migrants.[19] CBP’s publicly available policy materials also do not indicate that mounted agents receive crowd control training for a use in the manner seen here.”

[2] DHS Outlines Strategy to Address Increase in Migrants in Del Rio, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Sept. 18, 2021, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/09/18/dhs-outlines-strategy-address-increase-migrants-del-rio; Molly Hennessy-Fiske, U.S. begins removing Haitian migrants, but they continue to flock to Texas border, LOS ANGELES TIMES, Sept. 19, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-09-19/haitian-migrants-continue-to-flock-to-texas-border-some-flown-back-to-homeland-by-u-s.
[3] AFP News Agency, @AFP on Twitter, Sept. 19, 2021, 7:30 PM, https://twitter.com/afp/status/1439763779688882180.
[4] Id.
[5] See Daina Beth Solomon and Alberto Fajardo, “Trapped”: Migrants collecting food try to evade law enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border, REUTERS, Sept. 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/trapped-migrants-collecting-food-try-evade-law-enforcement-us-mexico-border-2021-09-20/; Al Jazeera English, Haitian migrants undeterred as US begins removal flights, YouTube, Sept. 21, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTFnKJqcPks.
[6] Sawyer Hackett, @SawyerHackett on Twitter, Sept. 20, 2021, 10:25 AM, https://twitter.com/SawyerHackett/status/1439989195871825921?s=20.
[7] NowThis News, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Holds a Press Briefing at U.S.-Mexico Border, YouTube, Sept. 20, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7kF0PUDdfM.
[12] See generally, U.S. Const. Amend. IV and VIII.
[13] Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 1867, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1989); see also Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 3, 105 S. Ct. 1694, 1697, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1985).
[14] See CBP, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (herein after “CBP”), 4500-002A, CBP Use of Force Policy, Jan. 2021, https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Jul/cbp-use-of-force- policy_4500-002A.pdf at Chap. 3(A)(6), page 13.
[15] Al Jazeera English, Haitian migrants undeterred as US begins removal flights, YouTube, Sept. 21, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTFnKJqcPks.
[16] John Holman, @johnholman100 on Twitter, Sept. 20, 2021, 7:43 AM, https://twitter.com/johnholman100/status/1439948289680363527?s=20.
[17] U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, NAT’L STANDARDS ON TRANSPORT, ESCORT, DETENTION, AND SEARCH, at §§ 1.2 (Integrity and Professionalism) & 1.4 (Non-Discrimination Policy) (Oct. 2015), https://www.cbp.gov/document/directives/cbp-national-standards-transport-escort-detention-and-search.
[18] U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Department Policy on Use of Force, Policy Statement 044-05, Sept. 7, 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/mgmt/law- enforcement/mgmt-dir_044-05-department-policy-on-the-use-of-force.pdf.
[19] See e.g., U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, What We Do, Last modified: June 21, 2021, https://www.cbp.gov/careers/usbp-what-we-do.

Source: Shaw Drake, Kathryn Huddleston, “Re: U.S. Border Patrol’s use of horses and verbal abuse against migrants in Del Rio, TX” (ACLU, September 21, 2021) <https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclu_tx_cbp_oig_letter_re_border_patrol_in_del_rio.pdf>.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Use of Force

Accountability Status: Complaint filed with CRCL, Complaint filed with OPR, Shared with congressional oversight committees, Shared with DHS OIG