69 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct where the accountability status is “Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees”

Early April, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a man whom Border Patrol injured and expelled into Mexico near Nogales, Arizona:

Last week, a Border Patrol agent ran over Marco Antonio (not real name), a Guatemalan national, with his four-wheeler before pushing him to the ground and detaining him. The BP agent first hit him with the front bumper and then ran over his right leg with one of the front wheels. Another BP agent realized that Marco Antonio could not walk, and so picked him up and carried him to another four-wheeler to transport him to the hospital. At the hospital, Marco Antonio was treated for severe dehydration and a dislocated knee joint. Hours later, he was transported to the border in Nogales, where they arrived around noon. Mexican immigration officials refused to accept him because of his condition, as he was unable to walk. Border Patrol then drove him back to the station, and later that day, they took him back to Nogales, where they expelled him on or after 10PM, when there were no Mexican authorities to receive him.

— “April 14 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 14, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Dangerous Deportation, Pedestrian Strike, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

Early April, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about two Guatemalan men who were expelled to Nogales, Mexico in the middle of the night:

Pablo and William (not real names) arrived at Kino the morning after Border Patrol agents expelled them to Nogales, México. They are both Guatemalan nationals, and had originally crossed in another location, and so were unfamiliar with the area. They both reported that they were expelled around 2 in the morning. As they did not have anywhere to go, they spent the night out in the open, trying to sleep on the ground, and without anything to protect themselves from the cold. Pablo is an older man, while William is in his early twenties. Pablo indicated that when Border Patrol detained him, he requested medical attention as he felt severely dehydrated. Although he complained to Border Patrol of chest pains and a headache, his request was ignored. It was only after he arrived to Kino that he was finally able to receive medical assistance.

— “April 14 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 14, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

April 10, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about expulsions of women and minors in the middle of the night in Nogales:

KBI staff also received reports that Border Patrol expelled dozens of migrants over these last few days at around 2AM. Despite the fact that local CBP officials assured KBI staff that they would not expel women, minors or other groups that would be particularly at risk during the night, the group expelled on Sunday at 1AM included both women and minors.

— “April 14 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, April 14, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Female

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a woman whom Border Patrol expelled to Nogales though she had proof of being raped by her smugglers. The agent, she said, confiscated her medical document:

Border Patrol expelled a young Guatemalan woman to Nogales, Mexico last week despite the fact that she had been repeatedly raped by the guides that brought her across the border into the US. Her attackers threatened her life if she went to the authorities. One Border Patrol agent insinuated that the woman was lying about the attack, and tried to convince her not to undergo a forensic examination that would verify the abuse. When she showed paperwork from the hospital examination to a Border Patrol agent as proof of the attack, asking that he not send her back to Mexico, the Border Patrol agent confiscated the paperwork and did not return it to her.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Guatemala, Sexual Abuse Victim, Single Adult

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a family expelled to Nogales despite pleading with a Border Patrol agent for asylum:

A Guatemalan father traveling with his wife and three children, 2 of whom are US citizens, shared with KBI staff that US officials refused to hear their asylum claim. The family crossed into the US through the desert and turned themselves into Border Patrol agents to ask for asylum. His wife tried to explain their case to one Border Patrol agent, and he responded, “Shut up lady, don’t ask!” When Border Patrol put the family on a bus to expel them, she pleaded with another agent to at least let her US citizen children stay so they could be safe, since they have a right to be in the country. The agent refused and said the whole family would be going to Mexico.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Guatemala, U.S. Citizen or Resident

Late March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) spoke with five migrants, removed to Nogales, who had been traveling with Carmelo Cruz-Marcos, a Mexican migrant who was shot to death by a Border Patrol agent on February 19:

Five members of the group traveling with the migrant who was murdered by Border Patrol on February 19th arrived at Kino earlier this month. They had all been held a month and a half in detention as witnesses to the crime. One of those in the group was a cousin of the victim, and was not informed for a week that his cousin had died.

When the group was expelled to Nogales, Sonora, Border Patrol did not return their identification or the money they had with them when they were detained.

— “March 31 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 31, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

Early March, 2022

“Numerous migrants arriving in Nogales in the last two weeks after being expelled reported that Border Patrol agents took their belongings and did not return them upon expulsions to Nogales, Sonora, México,” reported the Kino Border Initiative (KBI). “Migrants reported that Border Patrol agents did not return clothing, personal hygiene items, food, water, medicine, phones, backpacks, and personal documentation. Several migrants expressed that the loss of these items made survival at the border and travel to their next destination even more difficult.”

— “March 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification:

Early March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a Honduran man expelled to Nogales by Border Patrol without most of his belongings:

A Honduran man expelled under Title 42 last week shared with KBI staff that he had fled threats in his hometown and then attempted to cross into the US to seek asylum. When Border Patrol detained him, they took most of his belongings, including the humanitarian VISA he had been granted in Mexico, and did not return it when they expelled him to Nogales, MX. He expressed concern that without a valid ID in Mexico, he would not be able to travel or access work, housing or public services.

— “March 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Confiscation of Documents, Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Honduras, Single Adult

Early March, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a Mexican man expelled to Nogales by Border Patrol agents who did not return his group’s mobile phones:

A young Mexican father who was expelled to Nogales last week reported that Border Patrol had confiscated his cell phone and that of 4 others traveling in the group with him and never returned their phones. The man expressed through tears that the phone itself did not matter much to him, but that he could never replace the photos of his daughter and videos from her birthday celebration that were saved on the phone.

— “March 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Non-Return of Belongings

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico, Single Adult

Early March, 2022

“Border Patrol continues to expel people into Nogales, Sonora at night under the pretext of public safety,” the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported.

Last weekend KBI staff were made aware that dozens of migrants were expelled to Nogales, Sonora around midnight.

This week a Honduran man reported that he was expelled to Nogales, MX with a group of migrants at around 10PM. At that time, there were no humanitarian services available. Since they did not know the city and had no money, the group was forced to sleep outside next to the train tracks.

— “March 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, March 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Honduras, Single Adult

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about a family separation in Arizona:

A Honduran father of two fled the country to the United States after being shot in Honduras. He later asked his father to bring his children so the family could be reunited. When the grandfather was crossing the desert with the kids, Border Patrol found the group and apprehended the three. They expelled the grandfather and kept the children in their custody. When the grandfather arrived at KBI, neither he nor the father knew what had happened with the children.

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Honduras, Single Adult

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about an unaccompanied minor’s expulsion by Border Patrol agents in Arizona:

An unaccompanied minor was apprehended by Border Patrol while crossing the desert west of Nogales. When being processed for expulsion, the agent taking his fingerprints asked his age. When he responded that he was 17, the agent repeatedly told him to shut up and say his real age. Eventually, the agent threatened him with detention, at which point the minor, scared by the threat, lied and said he was 19. He was expelled to Nogales.

“The expulsion of unaccompanied minors has been a recurring issue that we’ve reported throughout 2020 and 2021,” KBI notes. “In almost all of the cases, CBP officers accuse the minors of lying or refuse to accept their documentation proving their age.”

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

Mid-February 2022

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) reported about an unaccompanied minor’s expulsion, and separation from his brother, by Border Patrol agents in Arizona:

One week ago, two unaccompanied minor brothers were apprehended in the desert by Border Patrol. They were taken in for processing and questioned separately. The agents questioning the older brother, who is 17, told him he was lying. They said his birth certificate was fake and threatened him with a 10-year prison sentence if he didn’t say his real age. They eventually expelled him to Nogales and he did not know the whereabouts of his little brother.

“The expulsion of unaccompanied minors has been a recurring issue that we’ve reported throughout 2020 and 2021,” KBI notes. “In almost all of the cases, CBP officers accuse the minors of lying or refuse to accept their documentation proving their age.”

— “February 17 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, February 17, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Expulsion of Unaccompanied Minor, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

January 6, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative reported on recent cases of expulsions into Mexico of particularly vulnerable migrants who do not speak Spanish:

Sixteen percent of those arriving at KBI in the last two weeks of December originally migrated from Haiti. Several of the Haitian families could not respond to simple questions in Spanish without the assistance of an interpreter. In some cases, one individual from the group spoke enough Spanish to interpret for others who did not speak Spanish. One young Haitian woman described experiencing discrimination during their journey north. She reported that her family was extorted in every country they traveled through, including members of the Mexican National Guard who stopped them in southern Mexico, opened up their backpacks, and took whatever they wanted.

Numerous indigenous families from Guatemala have been expelled to Nogales under Title 42, putting them at particular risk of discrimination in Mexico due to language barriers and cultural differences. A Guatemalan family whose primary language is Mam was expelled last week after attempting to cross into the US to seek asylum, as was a Guatemalan man whose primary language is Cakchiquel.

— “January 6 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 6, 2021)

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Guatemala, Haiti, Indigenous

January 6, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A man from Honduras was expelled to Nogales, Sonora late December in a state of extreme dehydration. He was visibly trembling and reported to KBI that for four days he had only drank water, and that he could not keep down any solid food. An ambulance took him from KBI to the hospital, where he received 15 bags of IV fluids.

— “January 6 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 6, 2022).

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care, Return of Vulnerable Individuals

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Honduras, Medical Condition, Single Adult

January 6, 2022

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A young Guatemalan man who was recently expelled to Nogales, Sonora had tried to cross into the US to seek asylum after fleeing threats from extortionists in his hometown. He fell and injured his knee while traveling in the desert. Although he reported his injury to immigration officials, he was not offered medical attention. He was expelled to Nogales at 3AM, where he spent the night exposed in the plaza downtown until the sun came up.

— “January 6 Update from KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, January 6, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson Field Office

Agency(ies): Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Medical Condition, Single Adult

October 27, 2021

The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) surfaced the issue of Border Patrol’s “Critical Incident Teams,” which often arrive at the scene when agents may have committed wrongdoing. The SBCC submitted a letter to congressional leaders requesting that they hold hearings into these units’ activities. While Critical Incident Teams may have other roles, coming up with exculpatory evidence to protect agents strongly appears to be one of them. No other law enforcement agency, the SBCC contends, has a similar capability, and the Teams’ existence is not specifically authorized by law.

SBCC was alerted to the teams’ role while carrying out advocacy around the case of Anastasio Hernández, a Mexican citizen whom border agents beat and tasered to death in a 2010 case caught on cellphone video. The Coalition found that a Critical Incident Team failed to notify San Diego police, controlled police investigators’ witness lists, tampered with evidence, sought to obtain Hernández’s medical records, failed to preserve video evidence, and “contacted the FBI and asked them to charge Anastasio with assault while he lay brain dead in the hospital. The FBI declined.”

Critical Incident Teams have existed in some form at least since 1987. (Their “challenge coin,” depicted in SBCC’s document, says “Est. May 21, 2001” and includes images of a chalk outline and a rolled-over vehicle.) They are almost never mentioned in Border Patrol or CBP statements. “Their existence poses a threat to public safety,” SBCC argued, “by concealing agent misconduct, enabling abuse, and exacerbating impunity within the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Immediate investigations into BPCITs are imperative.”

A January 10, 2022 front-page New York Times story about Border Patrol vehicle pursuit tactics included an account of Critical Incident Teams’ presence after an August 3 crash in New Mexico:

Body camera footage from a state police officer captured one of the Border Patrol agents saying: “Our critical incident team is coming out. They’ll do all the crime scene stuff—well, not crime scene, but critical incident scene.” The agent said that he and his colleague would give statements to the team, which it would share with the police.

This article also noted Critical Incident Teams’ role in the Border Patrol shooting of Mexican migrant Marisol Gómez Alcántara while she sat in the backseat of a vehicle in Nogales, Arizona.

CBP briefed House members about the Critical Incident Teams in late 2021, but this “did not fully address our questions,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the New York Times. As subsequent information requests got no replies from the agency, Congress issued two letters on January 24, 2022. Ten chairpeople of House and Senate Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Oversight committees and subcommittees wrote to Comptroller-General Gene Dodaro, who heads the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO, the Congress’s auditing and investigative arm), asking GAO to produce ar report about the teams (original link). The chairs of the House Homeland Security and Oversight Committees, Rep. Thompson and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) wrote to CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus, informing him in a more strongly worded message that they are launching their own joint investigation into the Critical Incident Teams (original link). The Thompson-Maloney letter required that CBP turn over a list of documents by February 7.

Bloomberg Government asked CBP Commissioner Magnus, a former Tucson, Arizona police chief who has been in his position since early December, about the Critical Incident Teams. A statement responded that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s specialized teams are ‘vitally important’ in the collection and processing of evidence related to enforcement activities,” Bloomberg reported. Magnus said that CBP would work with the committees and with GAO.

A May 3, 2022 memorandum from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus terminated the Critical Incident Teams, transferring their duties to CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (original link). “By the end of FY [Fiscal Year] 22,” it reads, “USBP will eliminate all Critical Incident Teams and personnel assigned to USBP will no longer respond to critical incidents for scene processing or evidence collection.”

An August 11, 2022 letter from the SBCC warned that “the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is hiring” members of the to-be-dissolved Critical Incident Teams. OPR is CBP’s internal affairs body that investigates and sanctions agents for misconduct, including improper use of force.

— Vicki B. Gaubeca, Andrea Guerrero, “Request for congressional investigations and oversight hearings on the unlawful operation of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs)” (San Diego: Southern Border Communities Coalition, October 27, 2021) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alliancesandiego/pages/3292/attachments/original/1635367319/SBCC_letter_to_Congress_Final_10.27.21.pdf?1635367319.

— Eileen Sullivan, “Democrats in Congress Seek Review of Teams Within the Border Patrol” (New York: The New York Times, January 24, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/us/politics/border-patrol-critical-incident-teams.html.

— “Oversight and Homeland Security Chairs Request Information from Customs and Border Protection on Potential Misconduct of Specialized Teams” (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, January 24, 2022) https://homeland.house.gov/news/correspondence/oversight-and-homeland-security-chairs-request-information-from-customs-and-border-protection-on-potential-misconduct-of-specialized-teams.

— “House & Senate Committee Leaders Request GAO Audit of CBP ‘Critical Incident Teams’” (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, January 24, 2022) https://homeland.house.gov/news/correspondence/house-and-senate-committee-leaders-request-gao-audit-of-cbp-critical-incident-teams.

— “CBP Eliminates Border Patrol Cover-Up Units” (Southern Border: Southern Border Communities Coalition, May 6, 2022) https://www.southernborder.org/for_immediate_release_cbp_eliminates_border_patrol_cover-up_units.

— Chris Magnus, “Critical Incident Response Transition and Support” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, May 3, 2022. https://assets.nationbuilder.com/alliancesandiego/pages/409/attachments/original/1651850948/Critical_Incident_Response_Signed_Distribution_Memo_%28508%29.pdf?1651850948

— Vicki Gaubeca, Andrea Guerrero, “New information that raises the stakes on the investigation of Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams (BPCITs) and implicates other parts of CBP” (San Diego: Southern Border Communities Coalition, August 11, 2022) https://assets.nationbuilder.com/alliancesandiego/pages/409/attachments/original/1660253686/Letter_to_Congress_re_BPCIT_Aug_2022_r1.pdf?1660253686.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Critical Incident Teams

Event Type(s): Evading Oversight

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Under Congressional Investigation, Under GAO Investigation

Victim Classification: Female, Mexico, Single Adult

Mid-September, 2021

Starting in mid-September 2021, and peaking around September 18-21, a large number of mostly Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande at Del Rio, Texas, a remote sector of the border across from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. By September 18, Del Rio’s mayor, citing information from Border Patrol, said that 14,534 migrants were encamped on the riverbank, under and around the border crossing bridge. There, while awaiting their turn to be processed by Border Patrol, they washed in the river and slept in tents, under shelters built out of vegetation, or in the open air.

In response to the Haitians’ rapid arrival, CBP surged 600 Border Patrol agents, CBP officers, and DHS volunteers to Del Rio, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a September 20 visit to the sector.

By September 21, CBP had constructed a field hospital and was more systematically providing food. But for the first several days, food and clean water were scarce at the Del Rio site. This forced migrants to wade into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico to buy food at local stores and restaurants, then wade back into the United States with their provisions.

On their return to U.S. soil, some of the migrants, often laden with bags of food, encountered hostile Border Patrol agents on horseback. Photos and videos showed agents appearing to charge at migrants, including some children, at the water’s edge, apparently trying to force them to return to Mexico. One can be heard using a profane slur against Haiti. Some are shown waving or making slapping motions with lariats or long reins, which bore a resemblance to whips.

“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,” an ACLU letter describes the scene. “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.”

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance included testimonies from the migrants.

A Haitian woman, traveling with her husband, aunt, and infant son, went to Acuña to find food for her family.[181] When she returned and attempted to cross the river, she was surrounded by several CBP officers on horseback. When she tried to explain that she had to get back to the encampment to reunite with her child, the CBP officers screamed at her to “get back” and “go back to Mexico.” She witnessed two men fall into the river and disappear below the current. She also witnessed one man tear his leg open after being chased and trampled by a CBP officer on horseback. One Haitian man brought his eight-year-old son to the riverbank to bathe when mounted officers appeared and began chasing down a group of migrants gathered by the Rio Grande.[182] As his son attempted to run away from the CBP officers on horseback, he fell—was nearly trampled by the horse—and suffered cuts and bruises to his legs. He injured his eye, which then became painfully inflamed. The man described the “moment of terror” when he saw his young son fall to the ground. “I thought my son would be killed, right there in front of me.”[183] Terrified and traumatized, they fled the Del Rio encampment that night. Another Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend were both shoved and pushed by CBP officers in Del Rio when they attempted to cross the Rio Grande with food they purchased in Acuña:

“When we were crossing the river by the bridge, we were met by the CBP agents. Some of them were on horses, some were on foot. As I was trying to cross with my pregnant girlfriend they shoved us. She [my girlfriend] was also shoved and fell to the ground. I don’t speak English well, but I tried to tell the agents that my girlfriend was pregnant. I tried to say it in Spanish. But they continued to abuse us and they kept shoving us across the river.”[184]

In summarizing his experience under the bridge, the man explained, “I wasn’t treated with dignity at the border [in Del Rio]. I was treated worse than animals. I experienced racism and abuse in Brazil, but what I experienced at the border was much worse.”[185]

Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz, a former Del Rio sector chief, claimed the agents were attempting to control the horses with the reins. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that “this was an apparently isolated encounter, one that soon resolved with those seeking to enter the country and return to or arrive at the camp able to do so.”

Nonetheless, images of uniformed White men on horseback menacing Black people with what looked like whips blanketed U.S. social media on September 19 and 20, inspiring horrified reactions.

Immigrant rights and civil rights groups joined in condemnation. In Miami, 200 Haitian-Americans protesting outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office forced road closures. The NAACP tweeted side-by-side “then” and “now” images: a drawing of a slaveholder whipping a Black man next to one of the Del Rio photos. A letter from civil rights groups said Biden’s promises for a more humane immigration policy “are being shredded before our eyes.” Human Rights Watch called it “the latest example of racially discriminatory, abusive, and illegal U.S. border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster.”

Reactions in Congress were strong. The images were “horrific and disturbing,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “We had not seen the horses and the whips with any other population of people, so that to us goes to racism,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. House Oversight Committee Democrats sent a letter demanding a briefing from Biden administration officials by September 24 (original link).

Strong words also came from the Biden administration. “As it relates to those photos and that horrific video, we’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “What I saw depicted, those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “Human beings should never be treated that way, and I’m deeply troubled about it.”

On September 24, President Joe Biden addressed the images for the first time. “It’s horrible what you saw. To see people like they did, with horses, running them over, people being strapped, it’s outrageous,” he said. “I promise you, those people will pay. There is an investigation underway right now and there will be consequences.”

DHS promised an investigation and disciplinary actions, and suspended the use of horse patrols in Del Rio (original link). However, “There is little reason to have confidence in the department’s willingness to hold its agents accountable,” Chris Rickerd and Sarah Turberville contended at the Los Angeles Times, noting that “CBP’s own records found that it took no action in 96% of 1,255 cases of alleged Border Patrol misconduct between January 2012 and October 2015.”

The DHS Inspector-General declined to take the case, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility shared preliminary findings with the Justice Department in October, to determine whether criminal charges were warranted. As of January 2022, other than a list of next steps that DHS published in mid-November, there had been no further word (original link). It was not until nearly six months after the incident, on March 11, 2022, that the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas decided not to pursue criminal charges. During that period, CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was unable to interview the Border Patrol agents directly involved in the incident.

On July 8, 2022, CBP OPR released its report on the incident (original link). The 511-page document found “failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents.”

The report included the following findings about what happened over approximately a half hour on September 19, 2021.

  • There was no evidence that the agents “whipped” the migrants or that the riders’ reins struck any migrants. In future crowd control events, though, CBP will prohibit mounted agents from “twirling” their reins as “a distancing tactic.”
  • “Several mounted Border Patrol Agents used force or the threat of force to drive several migrants back into the Rio Grande River, despite the fact the migrants were well within the territorial boundary of the United States.”
  • In addition to swinging reins, aggressive tactics included charging horses at migrants to keep them from entering, in one case maneuvering a horse very close to a boy, and in another causing a man to fall back into the river; grabbing a man by his shirt and flipping him around; and yelling “unprofessional” comments, including “Hey! You use your women? This is why your country’s s***, you use your women for this.”
  • By pushing migrants back to the river and Mexico, the horse-patrol agents were following orders given not by Border Patrol, but a request from Texas’s state police (Department of Public Safety). Though blocking migrants was not CBP’s objective, the Border Patrol supervisor approved the state agency’s request without checking with higher-ups.
  • This owed much to faulty command and control within Border Patrol. The horse patrol agents’ supervisor “was unable to obtain additional guidance from higher in the USBP chain of command at the time of the request” from Texas DPS. The agents “repeatedly sought guidance from the USBP incident command post” by radio, and backed off after being “eventually told to allow all the migrants to enter.”
  • Though assigned to a crowd control mission—a difficult job with a high risk of escalation and human rights abuse—the horse patrol unit’s members’ responses indicated that they had not received crowd control training. CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said that from now on, horses would not be used for crowd control without the commissioner’s approval.

With the OPR report complete, a CBP Disciplinary Review Board, separate from OPR and made up of senior officials, was to consider punishments for the agents involved. As of July 2022, four agents may face administrative measures. CBS News reported that no firings are recommended, and that the Review Board proposed a seven-day suspension for the supervisor who approved the Texas state DPS request.

The agents’ defenders—including the National Border Patrol Council union, House Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Rep. John Katko (R-New York), and several former Border Patrol leaders in a mid-June letter—argue that they are not receiving due process because President Biden had demanded in September 2021 that they “pay” for their actions (original link, original link). Border Patrol union President Brandon Judd said that the union would appeal any punishments.

Critics of the OPR report note that it only covered what happened in the approximate half-hour on September 19 when the horse patrol was caught on camera, and that investigators did not speak to a single Haitian migrant. Nora Phillips, legal director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, told National Public Radio:

the official report contains some important inaccuracies. For example, she says, Border patrol agents did strike migrants with their horses’ reins. She’s also disappointed that investigators focused only on the incident with the horse patrols, while basically ignoring the squalid conditions in the camp.

“There was no investigation into that,” she said. “The lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of medical care. And that’s what’s also really disappointing.”

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

— Sarah Turberville, Chris Rickerd, “Abusing migrants while on horseback? That fits with the Border Patrol’s long history of brutality” (Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2021) https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-09-22/haitian-migrants-del-rio-border-patrol-horseback.

— Philip Bump, “What one photo from the border tells us about the evolving migrant crisis” (Washington: The Washington Post, September 20, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/09/20/what-one-photo-border-tells-us-about-evolving-migrant-crisis/.

— Tweet from NAACP @NAACP (Twitter: September 21, 2021) https://twitter.com/NAACP/status/1440433080477519872.

Beyond the Bridge: Documented Human Rights Abuses and Civil Rights Violations Against Haitian Migrants in the Del Rio, Texas Encampment (United States: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Haitian Bridge Alliance, March 29, 2022) https://rfkhr.imgix.net/asset/Del-Rio-Report.pdf.

— “US: Treatment of Haitian Migrants Discriminatory” (Washington: Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2021) https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/21/us-treatment-haitian-migrants-discriminatory.

Letter to Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller from six members of Congress (Washington: U.S. House of Representatives, September 22, 2021) https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/read-the-letter-from-lawmakers-demanding-answers-on-treatment-of-haitian-migrants/9e164db6d5b98eed/full.pdf.

— Annika Kim Constantino, “Biden condemns Border Patrol agents’ treatment of Haitian migrants, vows they will face consequences” (United States: CNBC, September 24, 2021) https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/24/biden-condemns-border-patrol-treatment-of-haitian-migrants-in-del-rio.html.

Tweet from Homeland Security @DHSgov (Twitter: September 20, 2021) https://twitter.com/DHSgov/status/1440090164425019397.

Letter from former Border Patrol officials to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (Washington: Washington Examiner, June 21, 2022) https://www.scribd.com/document_downloads/direct/579239144?extension=pdf&ft=1657135495&lt=1657139105&user_id=352475425&uahk=pzqbundOpAFXYAdmeffgbzGwQPI.

— Anna Giaritelli, “Border Patrol chiefs under three presidents warn Biden on ‘whipping’ discipline” (Washington: Washington Examiner, June 21, 2022) https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/border-patrol-chiefs-warn-biden-on-whipping.

— Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “Review Finds Agents Used Unnecessary Force Against Black Migrants” (New York: The New York Times, July 8, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/08/us/politics/border-patrol-investigation-migrants.html.

— Rep. John Katko, “Katko on the Del Rio Horse Patrol Investigation Report” (Washington: House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Republicans, July 8, 2022) https://republicans-homeland.house.gov/katko-on-the-del-rio-horse-patrol-investigation-report/.

— Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Nicole Sganga, “Border Patrol agents on horseback used “unnecessary” force against Haitian migrants last year, investigators find” (United States: CBS News, July 8, 2022) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/border-patrol-agents-on-horseback-used-unnecessary-force-against-haitian-migrants-last-year-investigators-find/.

CBP Office of Professional Responsibility – Del Rio Horse Patrol Unit Investigation Report (Washington: CPB OPR, July 8, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/document/report/cbp-office-professional-responsibility-del-rio-horse-patrol-unit-investigation.

— Joel Rose, “After Del Rio, some Haitian migrants found safety in the U.S. But many have not” (United States: National Public Radio, September 7, 2022) <https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1120775143/after-del-rio-some-haitian-migrants-found-safety-in-the-u-s-but-many-have-not>.

Footnotes from above:

[181]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[182]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[183]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[184]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

[185]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 25, 2021).

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Crowd Control, Racial Discrimination or Profiling, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, OPR Investigation Closed, Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A woman from Guatemala who was migrating with her younger sister was expelled to Nogales last week after Border Patrol apprehended the sisters in the desert. Because the younger sister was a minor and her older sister was not her legal guardian, the sisters were separated when they were apprehended. The younger sister was kept in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the older sister was expelled to Nogales. Border Patrol gave her no information whatsoever about what they had done with her younger sister, and she had no idea how to locate her. She was one of three women who came through KBI recently in the same situation.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Guatemala, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A Guatemalan man who was migrating due to extreme poverty attempted crossing into the U.S. near McAllen, Texas. Border Patrol apprehended him, held him under a highway bridge for several days [Border Patrol’s “Temporary Outdoor Processing Site” (TOPS) facility in Mission, Texas], then told him they would arrange transport to his family members in the United States.

They flew him to Tucson, and when they took him off the flight, told him they would take him to a place where he could sign papers for the transport to his family. Instead, they put him on a bus to Nogales, where he was expelled. He did not know he was being expelled until he reached the port of entry.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Rio Grande Valley, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Guatemala, Single Adult

Mid-August, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

A woman who had severely injured her leg in the desert required emergency medical attention. Border Patrol took her to a hospital where she could be treated, but took her out of the hospital after a day and a half, despite the doctor’s recommendation that she stay for two weeks. Since her clothes were cut to treat her injury, she did not have anything left to wear. BP agents provided her with oversized disposable scrub pants and shirt, and no underwear. They then took her to their processing center, without any consideration for her or her injury. She was expelled into Mexico without proper clothing nor her prescribed medications.

— “August 19 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, August 19, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Medical Condition, Single Adult

Mid-July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

At least five different migrants arriving at our Migrant Aid Center in the last two weeks shared that BP agents have adopted a manipulative strategy to avoid providing medical attention to migrants in their custody. Officers tell migrants at one processing center that they will receive medical attention at the next processing center. When migrants arrive at the next center, agents there tell them the same thing, and the migrants are instead expelled to Mexico without ever having received medical attention.

— “July 22 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 22, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Medical Condition

Mid-July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Recently, one of our legal service partners spoke with Maily Martinez, who attempted to cross the border with her husband and son near the Yuma port of entry in early July. Maily was eight months pregnant with twins at the time. When BP agents encountered the family, the woman expressed that she urgently needed medical attention, but the agents ignored her and expelled her back to Mexico. She realized shortly after that the twins had died, likely right around the time that Border Patrol denied her medical aid.

A Noticias Telemundo story about the Honduran woman’s case, citing the hospital in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, noted that the fetuses perished from “interruption of feto-placental circulation.” The news outlet asked Border Patrol about the case; the agency responded, “We do not comment on individual cases due to privacy issues.”

— “July 22 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 22, 2021).

— “Madre inmigrante pierde bebés tras ser deportada de EE.UU.” (United States: Noticias Telemundo, July 8, 2021) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXZ9e1jQTew.

Sector(s): Yuma

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Family Unit, Honduras, Medical Condition, Pregnancy

Early July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

Several people who arrived at our Migrant Aid Center in Nogales reported brutal treatment by Border Patrol agents encountered in the desert. Two different people reported that agents slammed them to the ground after lifting them by the neck, one person was dragged through thorns, and one was handcuffed, tied to a horse, and forced to walk behind the horse for two hours.

— “July 8 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 8, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: Single Adult

Early July, 2021

The Kino Border Initiative reported:

ICE continues to transport migrants to Nogales, Sonora for removal from the U.S. at night. The practice places migrants at an unnecessary increased risk of robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes, and excludes them from coordination and reception services available for recently removed migrants.

Because of the well- known danger of said practice, Local Repatriation Agreements between U.S. and Mexican authorities prohibited night deportations for years, but since spring of 2020 these removals have occurred very frequently.

KBI staff and migrants have reported nighttime deportations on at least five nights in the last two weeks. Because shelters are closed when migrants are deported or expelled at night, many individuals are forced to sleep outside of the port of entry on benches. One night last week migrants were expelled in the midst of a heavy rain that flooded the streets near the port of entry.

— “July 8 Update From KBI” (Nogales: Kino Border Initiative, July 8, 2021).

Sector(s): Tucson

Agency(ies): ICE

Event Type(s): Dangerous Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with Congressional Oversight Committees, Unknown

Victim Classification: