18 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Del Rio”

June 16, 2022

On May 23, 2022, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruling went into effect prohibiting CBP personnel from using Title 42 to expel asylum-seeking families to places where they will be persecuted or tortured (original link). A June 16, 2022 report from Human Rights First, however, found examples of families who, “when they tried to express their fears of return, Border Patrol agents ignored their statements or refused to allow them to speak and failed to refer any for screening”:

Four asylum-seeking families, who were expelled under Title 42 to Ciudad Acuña on May 23, 2022, reported to Human Rights First researchers that Border Patrol agents refused to allow them to explain their fear of return to Mexico or their countries of origin and did not refer them for a fear screening before expelling them.

None of the approximately 50 Honduran and Salvadoran asylum-seeking families, who were interviewed by researchers from the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), had received a fear screening prior to being expelled to Reynosa in late May and early June 2022. According to CGRS’s Legal Director, Blaine Bookey, many families reported that when they attempted to explain their fear of return, Border Patrol officers said, for example, that asylum was not available and that they would only be taking fingerprints and photographs and ordered the families to stop attempting to communicate with the officers. Other families expressed that given harsh treatment and verbal abuse from Border Patrol agents, they were too afraid to even attempt to explain their fears of return. One family reported to Bookey that Border Patrol agents called them “invaders,” and other families reported the agents told them that if they were afraid to return to their country, they should arm themselves and fight the gangs.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, The Nightmare Continues: Title 42 Court Order Prolongs Human Rights Abuses, Extends Disorder at U.S. Borders (New York: Human Rights First, June 16, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/nightmare-continues-title-42-court-order-prolongs-human-rights-abuses-extends-disorder-us.

Sector(s): Del Rio, San Diego

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Family Unit, Honduras

May, 2022

A June 16, 2022 report from Human Rights First included examples of three asylum-seeking families separated by CBP personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border during May 2022.

DHS separated a five-year-old Honduran boy from his adult sister and the sister’s children, who were expelled to Mexico under Title 42 in May 2022. The boy’s sister told Human Rights First that he was processed as an unaccompanied minor and is now in an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in South Carolina, while the sister and her children are stranded in danger in Ciudad Acuña unable to seek asylum.

DHS separated a Honduran father from his partner and child, expelling the man to Mexico under Title 42 in May 2022. The man told Human Rights First researchers that his partner and their child were permitted to remain in the United States to continue the asylum process while he is stuck in Ciudad Acuña.

In late May 2022, DHS separated an elderly Colombian woman from her adult daughter and sister and their children after the family sought protection in Laredo, Texas. The woman’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, and niece were released into Laredo to seek asylum. The woman’s sister told Human Rights First that nobody had heard from the woman in the five days since DHS released the family, and she fears her sister was expelled alone to Mexico under Title 42 or enrolled in the Remain in Mexico program.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, The Nightmare Continues: Title 42 Court Order Prolongs Human Rights Abuses, Extends Disorder at U.S. Borders (New York: Human Rights First, June 16, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/nightmare-continues-title-42-court-order-prolongs-human-rights-abuses-extends-disorder-us.

Sector(s): Del Rio, Laredo

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Colombia, Family Unit, Female, Honduras

May 13, 2022

A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies in the vicinity of Eagle Pass, Texas, are working at times alongside “Patriots for America,” an armed conservative Christian citizen militia that the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas accuses of espousing White supremacist beliefs.

A Times reporter witnessed militia members intercepting and interviewing migrant children in the field as Border Patrol agents look on.

— Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “Border militia stops migrants and shoots video of kids. Rights groups say they’re racist” (Eagle Pass: Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2022) https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-05-13/texas-border-militia.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vigilantism Tolerance or Collaboration

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

May 2, 2022

A brief May 9 statement from CBP noted the arrest of a Del Rio Sector Border Patrol agent “on a warrant stemming from an indictment on a charge of Official Oppression in connection with the alleged assault and mistreatment of a juvenile in custody.” (original link) No further details appeared.

— “CBP Statement on Arrest of Del Rio Sector Border Patrol Agent” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, May 6, 2022) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-arrest-del-rio-sector-border-patrol-agent.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Use of Force

Last Known Accountability Status: Criminal Charges Pending

Victim Classification:

December 2021

A January 2022 Human Rights First report recounted the consequences of CBP officers’ repeated refusal to grant humanitarian parole to a 19-year-old Honduran woman with a high-risk pregnancy.

The woman who was eight-months pregnant and experiencing severe bleeding, had been denied medical treatment in Ciudad Acuña and attempted three times to enter the United States to seek protection. Each time she was expelled by DHS to Ciudad Acuña under Title 42. By the time CBP reversed its initial parole denial following advocacy by Charlene D’Cruz, an attorney with Lawyers for Good Government, the woman had disappeared and remains missing as of January 2022.

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum (New York: Human Rights First: January 13, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/shameful-record-biden-administration-s-use-trump-policies-endangers-people-seeking-asylum.

Sector(s): Del Rio, Laredo Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Female, Honduras, Medical Condition, Pregnancy, Single Adult

October 28, 2021

Five Border Patrol agents pursued three suspected undocumented migrants through a flat field during pre-dawn hours near Eagle Pass, Texas. The migrants “ran from the field toward some nearby thick brush attempting to evade apprehension,” CBP reported (original link).

Agents caught one migrant, but the other two “ran and fell off a steep cliff that was concealed by the thick brush.” One was critically injured; the other, a citizen of Honduras, died on the scene.

As of October 30, 2021, this incident was being reviewed by the Maverick County, Texas Sheriff’s Office; the Webb County, Texas Medical Examiner’s Office; and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The DHS Office of Inspector General was also notified.

— “One migrant dies; a second critically injured after fall from cliff in Eagle Pass, TX” (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, October 30, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/one-migrant-dies-second-critically-injured-after-fall-cliff-eagle.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Fatal Encounter

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under Local Police investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Honduras, Single Adult

September 2021

Human Rights First reports:

In September 2021, DHS expelled an asylum-seeking Haitian family to Haiti after holding them for days in a freezing cell without sufficient food. DHS separated the family from an adult brother who had crossed into Del Rio, Texas with them where they had attempted to seek asylum together based on political persecution. The family remains in hiding in Haiti, terrified their persecutors will find them, according to Blaine Bookey from the UC Hastings Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, DHS

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti

Late September, 2021

“Belone Mpembele, an asylum seeker from Angola, was expelled to Haiti by the United States due to its failure to provide access to the U.S asylum system or even screen individuals at the border in its rush to expel Haitians in September 2021,” reported Human Rights First. The Guardian reported from Port-au-Prince that the Angolan migrant “had never set foot in Haiti. ‘I told them I am not Haitian,’ said Belone Mpembele, as he emerged, dazed, from the terminal. ‘But they didn’t listen.’”

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

— Joe Parkin Daniels, “‘They treated us like animals’: Haitians angry and in despair at being deported from US” (Port-au-Prince: The Guardian, September 26, 2021) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/sep/26/they-treated-us-like-animals-haitians-angry-and-in-despair-at-being-deported-from-us.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, DHS

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Inappropriate Deportation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Angola, Black

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-September, 2021

According to Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, during the September 2021 mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas, CBP provided “extremely limited access to food and water. “In the initial days of the crisis, CBP personnel arranged a minimal number of service stations in the encampment and began providing a small bread roll and one bottle of water per person, per day. Individuals were required to wait in line, often for over an hour.”

As U.S. officials began handing out food and water, one Haitian man waited in line with hundreds of others to receive a bottle of water and a piece of bread. As he waited for food, he observed that the rations were not enough to sustain him and his family. He also saw how officials distributing the food taunted the asylum seekers by throwing water bottles at them. He described the experience:

“It was humiliating. It felt like at home how you would throw food for chickens on the floor. That’s how they treated us. It felt like they did enough so we wouldn’t die but no more than that. It felt like a nightmare.” [150]

The RFK-HBA report finds that the lack of access to clean water forced many Haitians in Del Rio to drink from the Rio Grande, which is not potable, sickening many.

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.

Footnote from above:

[150]: Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden, No. 1:21-CV-03317 (D.D.C.) (filed Dec. 20, 2021), https://i com/data/documenttools/hba-v-biden/a8106eacd7c45afe/full.pdf.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Food or Water

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

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

Mid-September, 2021

In a March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), narrating the September 2021 mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas, migrants’ testimonies offered several examples of CBP personnel denying medical care.

Many individuals reported that CBP personnel outright denied their requests for medical care, telling them to “go back to Mexico.” Multiple individuals reported that when they requested medical assistance from personnel, instead of medication or medical assistance, they were given a single piece of bread and a hot water bottle. For example, a Haitian man traveling with his wife and two-year-old daughter described how his daughter became very sick with gastrointestinal issues and respiratory issues from the dust.[166] She was vomiting frequently, had a high fever, and visible difficulty breathing. Despite the man’s pleading and repeated requests for help, CBP personnel denied this man’s child medical treatment on September 18th.

A Haitian woman’s son had constant diarrhea and developed a high fever. Eventually her son was so ill that she twice sought help at a medical tent where there were personnel who appeared to be doctors.[167] The woman recalled that the medical personnel treated her baby “like he was nothing.” Instead of paying attention to and treating her son, they kept taunting her by asking her “when her number would be called so that she would be put in jail and then deported.” Eventually they gave her some liquid drops and some ice gel packs for his fever, but those treatments did not appear to help her son’s condition. One couple described that when their nine-month-old child developed a severe rash from the dust, they went to the medic tent on September 21st to request medical assistance. [168] The personnel at the medic tent gave the couple a hot bottle of water and refused to provide the infant with further medication or medical care.

…One newborn infant almost died after being held in the encampment for several days. He survived only after HBA intervened and advocated for his admission to a hospital in Del Rio. The newborn’s condition had grown so precarious that, after he was finally removed from the Del Rio encampment, he had to be airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio, Texas where specialists were able to intervene and provide life-saving medical treatment.[171] One Haitian woman described, “I witnessed pregnant women going into labor taken in to give birth and then sent back under the bridge without further access to healthcare. And that was really heartbreaking for me. I’ll never forget that.”[172] An individual reported that after a pregnant Haitian asylum seeker went into labor, U.S. officials eventually took the woman out of the encampment, but then returned her and her newborn to the encampment mere hours after delivery.[173]

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.

Footnotes from above:

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

[167]: Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden, No. 1:21-CV-03317 (D.D.C.) (filed Dec. 20, 2021), https://i com/data/documenttools/hba-v-biden/a8106eacd7c45afe/full.pdf.

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

[171]: In-person interview and observation by HBA caseworker with Haitian individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 19-25, 2021).

[172]: In-person interview by HBA case worker with Haitian individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 23, 2021).

[173]: Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden, No. 1:21-CV-03317 (D.D.C.) (filed Dec. 20, 2021), https://i com/data/documenttools/hba-v-biden/a8106eacd7c45afe/full.pdf.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Denial of Medical Care

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Black, Family Unit, Haiti, Medical Condition, Pregnancy, Single Adult

Mid-September, 2021

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance found that DHS officials often lied to Haitian migrants about the destination of what turned out to be Title 42 expulsion flights, following a September 2021 mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas.

In the process of these expulsions, DHS officials reportedly made misleading statements to migrants, telling them that they were being flown to other locations within the United States for processing when, in reality, they were being expelled to Haiti. Because officers lied about where asylum seekers were being taken, some expelled individuals did not realize they had been sent to Haiti until they got off the plane.

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.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Haiti

Mid-September, 2021

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance recounted several examples of family separations during a mass migration event in Del Rio, Texas in September 2021.

Another Haitian asylum seeker traveled to Del Rio with her husband and their three-year-old son.[213] The woman’s husband had adopted the child and they had been living as a family since his birth. After spending five days in the encampment, the husband was separated from his wife and child and was deported back to Haiti. A significant number of Haitian migrants also reported being separated from their spouses. For example, after spending seven days in the encampment, a Haitian woman reported that she was separated from her husband during CBP processing and was unable to contact him.[214] She suspected that he was deported to Haiti.

In addition to the separation of minor children from parents and legal guardians, Haitian and other migrants from the encampment also reported DHS forcibly separating them from the extended family members they were traveling with, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings. For example, one Haitian asylum seeker who had been traveling with her twin sister reported that when they were issued tickets and processed by CBP personnel in the encampment, while she was allowed to enter the United States and was taken to the local respite center, her twin was taken into custody and deported back to Haiti—despite the fact that they had virtually identical asylum claims and circumstances.[215] A Haitian woman who was traveling with her husband, infant child, and sister reported that in the Del Rio encampment, her sister was separated from the couple and deported to Haiti.[216] A Venezuelan woman and her three-year-old child were separated from her elderly mother in the Del Rio encampment.[217] The woman was unable to communicate with her mother and had no knowledge of what happened to her.

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.

Footnotes from above:

[213]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[214]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[215]: In-person interview by HBA case worker with Haitian individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 21, 2021).

[216]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Haitian individual in Acuña, Mexico (Sept. 24, 2021).

[217]: In-person interview by RFK Human Rights lawyer with Venezuela individual in Del Rio, Texas (Sept. 22, 2021).

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): CBP, DHS

Event Type(s): Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti, Venezuela

Mid-September, 2021

A report from Human Rights First discussed the separation of a 16-year-old Nicaraguan child from his parents near Eagle Pass, Texas.

In September 2021, DHS separated a 16-year-old Nicaraguan child from his parents when the family sought asylum at the border near Eagle Pass, Texas, and jailed him alone in adult ICE detention facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana for one-and-a-half months. CBP officers ripped up the boy’s birth certificate, interrogated him about his age, threatened to imprison him for 10 years, and forced him to sign a document stating that he was 18. At the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, ICE held the boy in an isolation cell for 18 days. He told Telemundo News: “To spend 24 hours in there, locked up, with the doors locked, without going out. It was terrible. There was no hope of leaving that place.”

Noticias Telemundo described the 16-year-old’s treatment at the hands of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended him.

They doubted that they were a family. The son burst into tears, as he recounts. “They started telling me ‘tell us your real age.’ And for about twenty times I repeated the same thing: 16 years old, 16 years old. They got mad at me and told me that they were going to hold me and my family in prison for ten years, and that they were going to deport me.”

“Angel” says he signed a rudimentary, makeshift piece of paper the agents handed him, on which they only wrote his name and that he was 18 years old. He says he felt intimidated and forced to sign by the two agents’ shouting and threats.

…The mother, Luz Zelaya, says that she, meanwhile, had her son’s birth certificate torn up. It is a printed document stating that the minor was born in a municipality in northern Nicaragua in 2005, issued by local authorities days before his departure at the end of August 2021.

“This is no good’. And ra, ra, he tore it to pieces and put it in the trash. ‘You’re lying to me. I’m not dumb,’ he tells me,” recalls Zelaya, a 29-year-old mother who had her son almost as a child and has been with her current husband, who is not Angel’s biological father, for more than a decade. “We never saw him again.”

The minor was detained for a few days in Border Patrol custody in Texas, along with some 80 adult men, in a room where “you had to stand up, you couldn’t even sleep on your stomach,” as he describes it. From there, he was shackled by his hands, feet and waist to be put on a plane bound for an ICE detention center for single adults, Adams County Detention Center, in Mississippi.

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

— Damià Bonmatí, Belisa Morillo, “Aislado en una prisión con solo 16 años: la odisea de un menor que fue separado de sus papás en la frontera” (United States: Noticias Telemundo, December 15, 2021) https://www.telemundo.com/noticias/noticias-telemundo/inmigracion/separacion-bajo-el-gobierno-biden-asi-fue-la-odisea-de-un-menor-de-16-rcna8638.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Confiscation of Documents, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Accompanied Child, Family Unit, Nicaragua

September 14, 2021

A March 2022 report from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance recounted the separation of a Haitian family in Del Rio, Texas in September 2021.

[O]n September 14th, officers took one Haitian man and his family to a detention facility, where they remained for approximately five days.[211] The man and his sixteen-year-old son were separated from each other and from the rest of the family. When the man tried to see anyone in his family, the guards yelled at him and prevent him from doing so. At one point, an officer screamed at him, “No one told you to come to the U.S.”[212]

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.

Footnotes from above:

[211]: Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden, No. 1:21-CV-03317 (D.D.C.) (filed Dec. 20, 2021), https://i com/data/documenttools/hba-v-biden/a8106eacd7c45afe/full.pdf.

[212]: Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Biden, No. 1:21-CV-03317 (D.D.C.) (filed Dec. 20, 2021), https://i com/data/documenttools/hba-v-biden/a8106eacd7c45afe/full.pdf.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti

August 2, 2021

A CBP statement related the death in Border Patrol custody of a Salvadoran man near Eagle Pass, Texas (original link). The man had become “unresponsive” after being restrained for having reportedly become “unruly.”

The following statement pertains to an in-custody death that occurred near Eagle Pass, TX, on Monday, August 2, 2021. This information is based on a preliminary review and may be corrected or updated in the future. Additional information may also be released by other agencies investigating this incident.

On August 2, 2021, Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) were alerted to the presence of a group of suspected undocumented migrants inside a ranch approximately 17 miles south of Eagle Pass, Texas near Highway 277. BPAs assigned to the Eagle Pass South (EGS) Border Patrol Station responded and began tracking the group of migrants. After approximately nine hours of tracking the group, BPAs located and apprehended seven migrants while several other individuals fled. BPAs continued to search for these individuals.

Shortly thereafter, BPAs apprehended five more migrants, to include a male citizen of El Salvador. The man was initially handcuffed together with two other migrants using two sets of handcuffs. The man reportedly became unruly and was causing discomfort to the other two individuals to whom he was attached. When BPAs removed the handcuffs to separate him from the others, he attempted to escape, running a short distance before being apprehended again by BPAs. BPAs restrained him with his hands behind his back and placed him on the hood of a nearby Border Patrol vehicle. BPAs placed two other migrants on the front bumper area of the vehicle and two in the rear of the vehicle and drove back to the location where the first group was apprehended to await a transport vehicle.

Upon arrival at that location, BPAs removed all the migrants from the Border Patrol vehicle to await the transport vehicle; the El Salvadoran man remained restrained. When the Border Patrol transport vehicle arrived approximately one hour later, BPAs discovered the man was unresponsive. The BPAs began chest compressions and requested emergency medical services. When the Eagle Pass Fire Department arrived on the scene, medical personnel determined the man was deceased.

Consistent with agency procedures for reviewing in-custody deaths, CBP OPR immediately responded to the scene, interviewed migrants involved in the incident, and subsequently notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the DHS Office of Inspector General, and the Dimmit County Sheriff’s Department. The Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office and CBP OPR are reviewing this incident which is under investigation by the Texas Rangers. CBP is fully cooperating with all agencies reviewing or investigating this incident.

All CBP personnel involved in the incident have been reassigned to non-field enforcement activities, pending the results of the investigation and subsequent actions that may be warranted. Additionally, U.S. Border Patrol has initiated a full review of their transport and detention procedures to assure they are fully compliant with the CBP Transport, Escort, Detention, and Search (TEDS) policy.

CBP Statement: Death in Custody at Eagle Pass, TX” (Washington: Customs and Border Protection, August 6, 2021) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-death-custody-eagle-pass-tx-0.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

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

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG, Under FBI Investigation, Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Single Adult

July 26, 2020

CBP reported that Border Patrol agents “observed a suspicious vehicle” near Brackettville, Texas and attempted a vehicle stop (original link). “The driver then attempted to elude agents by fleeing at a high rate of speed,” after which “agents ultimately lost sight of the vehicle,” locating it shortly afterward, rolled over. “The motor vehicle accident resulted in fatalities and serious injuries. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene, but was later apprehended.”

Two people aboard the vehicle died. The Kinney County, Texas Sheriff’s Office posted to Facebook that they “are believed to be illegal alien” (original link).

Texas’s Department of Public Security was investigating, and CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility had the incident “under review.”

—”CBP Statement On Accident With Fatalities” (Del Rio, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 26, 2020) https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/cbp-statement-accident-fatalities.

Facebook post (Kinney County, TX: Kinney County Sheriff’s Office, July 26, 2020) https://www.facebook.com/KinneyCountySheriffsOffice/posts/738457053578706.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Vehicle Pursuit

Last Known Accountability Status: Under OPR Investigation

Victim Classification: Single Adult

February 4, 2020

Border Patrol agents apprehended 32-year-old James Paul Markowitz in his vehicle in Brackettville, Texas, “after he was identified as a suspect in an alien smuggling case,” a CBP statement read (original link). While it is unclear whether he was involved in the incident, Markowitz did have small amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine in his car, which he swallowed in an attempt to avoid detection.

During processing at the Brackettville Border Patrol station, Markowitz “began exhibiting signs of distress.” CBP’s notification to Congress stated that an ambulance was called at 6:00 PM. A CBS News records review revealed that “the ambulance wasn’t actually called for until 6:26 PM.” Markowitz died of a drug overdose.

Markowitz’s stepfather has been unable to get more information from CBP about the circumstances of his death.

In a March 3, 2020 letter to DHS, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) and CHC Immigration Task Force Chairwoman Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-California) accused DHS of having “failed to provide further clarity or transparency surrounding the death of a U.S. citizen in CBP custody.” (original link).

— Graham Kates, “Family of U.S. man who died after Border Patrol arrest says government has been tight lipped for a year” (CBS News, February 4, 2021) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/james-markowitz-border-patrol-arrest-government-silence/.

— Rep. Joaquín Castro and Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, “CHC Members Demand Answers Following Death of American Citizen James Paul Markowitz in CBP Custody” (Washington: Congressional Hispanic Caucus, March 3, 2020) https://chc.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chc-members-demand-answers-following-death-of-american-citizen-james.

Sector(s): Del Rio

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Medical Care, Fatal Encounter

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

Victim Classification: U.S. Citizen or Resident