Several Haitian asylum seekers allowed to stay in the U.S. wait at a gas station in Del Rio, Texas for a volunteer to help them find transportation on Sep. 20, 2021. Such migrants often head to the homes of relatives or friends already living in the U.S., while they wait for asylum hearings. Photo by Leonardo March

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection internal investigation has confirmed that several agents on horseback used unnecessary force against Haitians as they crossed into Del Rio, TX in September 2021. 

“The investigation concluded that there were failures at multiple levels of the agency, a lack of appropriate policies and training, and unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents,” according to the CBP report released Jul. 8, 2022

Investigators further concluded that its mounted agents were never threatened by the Haitians. Instead, the agents were trying to drive back the migrants into the Rio Grande, the natural border between sections of the United States and Mexico, even though those particular Haitians had already made it onto U.S. soil.

The investigation found there were leadership failures of horse patrol units in Del Rio and that CBP agents used denigrating language against Haitian migrants.

However, “the investigation found no evidence that agents struck any person with horse reins,” investigators concluded in the report. That finding was met with skepticism by some.

“Pictures don’t lie,” said Adorah Pierre-Mondesir, vice president of Houston Haitian United, a Houston-based civic organization that helped many of the Haitians asylum seekers after leaving Del Rio, TX. “I don’t know how else you can interpret that,” Pierre-Mondesir said. Maybe “he would have been caught by surprise, or if [it] was like something that he [the CBP agent] didn’t do intentionally. But it did happen.”

The investigation stems from an incident involving mounted CPB agents at an improvised encampment under the Acuña – Del Rio International Bridge in September 2021. CPB were there to process the migrants, most of them Haitians, to be either repatriated to Haiti or allowed to claim asylum in the U.S.

In all, about 15,000 Haitian asylum seekers, coming mainly from Chile or Brazil, crossed into the U.S. from Acuña, Mexico, through a shallow passage on the Rio Grande.

On Sept. 19, 2021, pictures were captured of agents on horseback appearing to strike a Haitian man with a whip. The images garnered international attention and drew outrage, as well as comparisons to the treatment of enslaved runaways in the U.S. being chased down and captured.

By Sept. 24 the encampment was cleared. It is not known the exact number of Haitians allowed in the US, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that most of the Haitian migrants in the encampment were repatriated to Haiti or returned to Mexico. 

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