Del Rio Mounted Border Patrol Agents Cleared

Finally — but there is no office that will give them their reputations back

By Andrew R. Arthur on April 16, 2022

In a stunning turn of events, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has vowed to gain control of the Southwest border, telling the House Homeland Security Committee: “I want to assure you ... that we are addressing this with tremendous speed and tremendous force. ... The facts will drive the action we take. We ourselves will pull no punches."

Half of that is a fib. Mayorkas did make those statements before the committee, back in September. But the subject the secretary was addressing was not controlling the Southwest border, nor the safety of the American people or stemming the flow of drugs into the United States — it had to do with investigating the actions of mounted Border Patrol agents in Del Rio. Six months after the fact, and despite promises of an expedited investigation, they have now apparently been cleared.

Del Rio Horse Incident. Back in the middle of September, CBP was caught unprepared when some 15,000 to 30,000 migrants (the actual figure has been lost in the confusion) — mostly Haitian nationals — crossed the Rio Grande near the town of Del Rio, Texas, and camped out under the international bridge there, waiting to be processed and released into the United States.

At the time I asserted, “’Del Rio’ is now shorthand for a border in chaos,” but “chaos” really does not do justice to the scene that subsequently unfolded there.

Border Patrol lacked the manpower to process all the migrants in any timely manner, the buses to transport them elsewhere, or the supplies to provide for them while they waited. Consequently, the migrants erected their own makeshift shelters, and groups funneled back and forth across the border, bringing water and food to the camp.

Order was only really restored after Texas state troopers positioned their vehicles on the riverbank, but before that occurred, mounted Border Patrol agents were brought in to restore some control; it was only at that point that the administration came unhinged.

Still pictures showed the agents swinging their reins as they guided their mounts and reached out to seize entering migrants, prompting Democratic members of Congress to deride their actions as “[c]ruel, inhumane, and a violation of domestic and international law” and “a stain on our country”.

Vice President Kamala Harris offered her own take on the pictures of agents using horses at the border, sharing that she was “deeply troubled” and opining that “human beings should never be treated that way.”

President Biden weighed in, too, calling those pictures “outrageous” and then making the following vow on September 24:

I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation, underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. ... It's an embarrassment, but beyond an embarrassment, it is dangerous. It’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world, it sends the wrong message at home. It's simply not who we are.

DHS Investigation. It was against this backdrop that Mayorkas made his statements before the Homeland Security Committee on September 22. Abasing himself, the secretary told the committee that he had ordered an investigation of the incident by the DHS’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s “leaders”, and added that he had also informed the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Mayorkas swore to the committee that the subjects of that investigation would not be “conducting law enforcement duties to interact with migrants, but rather ... only conducting administrative duties” while that investigation was ongoing. In other words, they would be riding office chairs, not horses.

Mayorkas further explained, “we need to conduct this investigation thoroughly but very quickly. It will be completed in days, not weeks.”

Keep in mind that the hearing had nothing to do with Del Rio or horses — the topic was “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland: 20 Years After 9/11”. Mayorkas requested additional time in his opening statement for this (rather ironic, given the hearing’s subject) auto-da-fé.

He could have saved himself some dignity, time, and money, as I explained what was going on in the pictures in a September 29 post. Still, I argued that a proper investigation should be done, but that it was unseemly for the administration to rush to judgment as it had.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, while the incident took on a life of its own. During a trip to Europe, I personally had to defend the honor of the agents and the country on Swiss television and before members of the European Parliament (none of whom seemed to have any familiarity with horses).

As late as January, the New Yorker was excoriating the agents, in an article that began:

The violent removal of Haitian asylum seekers from their encampments in Del Rio, Texas, in September, opened a critical window for reckoning with the centrality of racism — and anti-Black racism in particular — to the conduct and character of U.S. border policing. Photographs taken at the scene showed uniformed white agents in chaps and full riding gear as they drove Haitians away from U.S. territory. In one shot, captured by the photojournalist Paul Ratje, an agent lunges forward to grab a young man’s shirt; the man, who has since been identified as Mirard Joseph, is carrying nothing more threatening than food for his wife and daughter.

Never mind that Ratje himself stated on September 23 that he “never seen [the agents] whip anyone”. In any event, the New Yorker piece ran more than two months after CNN reported in mid-November that the DHS Inspector General had declined to investigate the incident.

End of the Investigation. Then, on April 13, Bret Baier of Fox News provided an update, reporting that DHS’s investigation had finally ended — 203 days (29 weeks) after Mayorkas announced it and promised a resolution “in days, not weeks”. As Baier explained: “The guys are not being punished.”

Given all the folderol and hand-wringing that had surrounded the “Del Rio” incident, and the fact that the agents involved had their lives turned upside down, you would expect that the conclusion of the investigation to have merited at least some apology from the president, vice president, and secretary. You would expect wrong.

Aside from Fox News, none of the major outlets that splashed the images of the agents across television and the internet have even deigned to comment. Breitbart, however, reports that: “A source close to the investigation informed Breitbart Texas the Border Patrol expects the official report of findings to be delivered shortly.”

Perhaps that’s when the contrition will commence. Probably not. More troubling, however, according to Breitbart:

The source, not authorized to speak to the media, told Breitbart Texas the delays in the investigation may have more to do with avoiding the political fallout of such a quick rush to judgment than the time it took multiple investigative agencies to analyze the evidence and reach a conclusion.

That said, there is plenty of reason to believe that the department had taken its sweet time with the whole affair. As late as October 26, ABC News reported that the agents involved had not yet been questioned about the incident.

Despite that fact, according to the outlet: “Preliminary findings from [CBP's] Office of Professional Responsibility have been handed over to the Justice Department to determine if criminal charges are warranted, according to two officials who were not authorized to speak publicly.”

The questioning apparently would have followed DOJ’s assessment, as per ABC News, although as a former prosecutor, I have no idea why.

The Ray Donovan Standard. Ray Donovan was President Reagan’s Labor secretary until he resigned in the face of a criminal indictment in 1984. Donovan denied the charges, blaming untruthful informants and the Bronx district attorney (a Democrat) for the indictment ever being handed down.

After he was acquitted, Donovan famously asked: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Had it not been for that statement, I never would have remembered Donovan or the charges. But thanks to his words, at least I remember the acquittal.

The mounted Border Patrol agents will likely not fare as well. If they have not quit already (as many agents have given the current lack of support they are receiving from the administration), they may go back to the horses, or maybe they will decide that processing thousands of aliens a day is a more halcyon way to spend a career.

Don’t expect any apologies from Biden, Harris, Mayorkas, or any of their other detractors. To paraphrase Erich Segal in his 1970 bestseller “Love Story”: “Power means never having to say you’re sorry.” Some kinds of power, at least.

The good news for the mounted Border Patrol agents in Del Rio is that they are — apparently — not going to be punished. The bad news is there’s no office that will give them their reputations back. The worse news is that the Biden administration cannot bring the same passion to actual border enforcement that it brought to baseless allegations of agent misconduct.