WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has “declined to investigate” the conduct of horse-mounted border patrol officers in Del Rio, Texas, chasing Haitian migrants as they attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, DHS said on Tuesday.
The inspector general’s office has referred the case back to the DHS Office of Professional Responsibility, which “immediately commenced investigative work, including its review of videos and photographs and the interview of witnesses, employees, and CBP leadership,” the DHS statement said, referring to Customs and Border Protection.
“DHS remains committed to conducting a thorough, independent, and objective investigation,” the agency said. “DHS will share information, as available, consistent with the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and individuals’ privacy.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had promised a swift and impartial investigation after photographs and video footage of the Sept. 19 incident emerged, prompting a national uproar.
White House officials, Democrats in Congress and immigration and civil rights advocacy groups had expressed concern over the images.
“There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment,” Biden said at the time. “It’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
But some Republicans have defended the horse patrol tactics and have questioned the Biden administration’s decision to investigate the agents. They also criticized the president for his comments ahead of the results of the investigation.
DHS said that the employees at the heart of the investigation will be given “due process” if disciplinary action is recommended.
“The disciplinary process, which is separate from the fact-finding investigation, is subject to certain timelines established in CBP’s labor-management agreement with the employees’ union of the United States Border Patrol,” the statement said.
“Once completed, the results of the investigation will be provided to CBP management to determine whether disciplinary action is appropriate and, if so, the specific discipline to be imposed,” the statement said.
A DHS official confirmed to McClatchy that the Office of Professional Responsibility investigation is ongoing.
The office may share its initial findings with the U.S. Attorney’s Office “to alert federal prosecutors of the facts of the case and ensure that administrative actions do not inadvertently compromise any potential criminal investigation,” the statement said.
At the peak of the crisis, roughly 15,000 migrants, most of them Haitian, were camped at the site in Del Rio, according to DHS. The camp was cleared on Sept. 24, but DHS officials say the agency is preparing for additional Haitian migrant arrivals.
Shortly after the images emerged, Mayorkas said he had directed an inquiry, placed the officers on administrative duties and alerted the agency’s inspector general.