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Reports: Mayorkas Knew Border Patrol Agents Didn't Whip Migrants – Immigration Blog

Multiple press outlets are reporting that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had been told that horse-mounted Border Patrol agents in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021, had not “whipped” or “strapped” Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally, but failed to contradict President Biden’s earlier claims to that effect, even when asked about them. These reports raise the question: What did Mayorkas and Biden know, and when did they know it?
“Del Rio”. For years, and under various administrations, the Del Rio sector of the Border Patrol was a sleepy border outpost that saw many fewer illegal entrants than other Southwest border sectors — the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and San Diego sectors in particular.
That all changed directly after Biden took office and quickly ditched immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration that had successfully brought some modicum of control to the border.
The most effective of those policies was the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as “Remain in Mexico”, pursuant to which illegal migrants were returned across the river to await hearings on their asylum claims.
For many if not most of those migrants, the opportunity to live and work in the United States was the goal, not asylum, and illegal entries fell. In Del Rio sector, they dropped 47 percent between May 2019 and September 2019.
Biden suspended MPP shortly after taking office, and then Mayorkas — twice — terminated the program, even though the administration was fighting court challenges by several states (led by Texas) to force DHS to reimplement Remain in Mexico.
In FY 2021, the 1,500 agents in Del Rio sector had to apprehend, process, transport, and care for a whopping 259,000-plus migrants, nearly all of them “give-ups” who surrendered to agents in the (reasonable) expectation they would be quickly released.
That’s an average of 710 migrants per day, or roughly 19 times the illicit cross-border traffic agents had to deal with just four years prior. In September 2021 alone, Del Rio sector agents encountered more than three times as many illegal entrants (43,570) than they had in all of FY 2017.
That was the month when anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 aliens — mostly Haitian nationals — crossed the Rio Grande illegally into Del Rio, where they overwhelmed not just Border Patrol but also the local resources available to accommodate them.
As I stated at the time, “Del Rio” quickly became “shorthand for a border in chaos … due to a ‘perfect storm’ of bad immigration policy and incompetent planning”, a “problem … made worse by confusion coming out of the Biden administration”, which not only failed to lead in the crisis, but also sent mixed messages to the migrants themselves.
Flashpoint. “Del Rio” came to a flashpoint shortly after noon on September 19. At around 12:30 PM, Texas state troopers assigned to prevent trespassing at the border-adjacent Star Ranch contacted Del Rio Horse Patrol Unit (HPU) agents for help dispersing a group of 150 to 200 migrants who had congregated at a nearby boat ramp. Del Rio HPU broadcast that request, and Carrizo Springs HPU agents — who had been sent to the scene the day before — “responded to the boat ramp within minutes”.
Photographers captured the scene as mounted agents wheeled around migrants crossing back into the United States with food and supplies. The agents used split reins to control their mounts, and images of them handling the reins were confected into a narrative that they were “whipping” the migrants.
The Initial Fallout. Ostensibly looking for anything to erase scenes of migrants circulating back and forth across the river in search of the food and water they weren’t otherwise being provided, and erecting makeshift lean-tos to seek relief against the south Texas heat, the administration latched onto those images.
Appearing at a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on September 22, Mayorkas told the members that his department would investigate the incident “with tremendous speed and tremendous force. … We ourselves will pull no punches.”
Two days later, on September 24, Biden appeared at a press conference that began shortly before 10:00 a.m., and was asked whether he would “take responsibility for chaos … unfolding” at the border. His response:
Of course I take responsibility. I’m President. But it was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous.
I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation, underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. … It’s an embarrassment, but beyond an embarrassment, it is dangerous. It’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world, it sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.
Four hours later, just after 2:30 PM, Mayorkas appeared alongside then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during her daily presser. At the outset, the DHS secretary provided an update on the entire Del Rio incident, stating:
I want to make one important point. In the midst of meeting these challenges, we — our entire nation — saw horrifying images that do not reflect who we are, who we aspire to be, or the integrity and values of our truly heroic personnel in the Department of Homeland Security.
The investigation into what occurred has not yet concluded. We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism. [Emphasis added.]
Later in that press conference, Psaki called on Peter Doocy of Fox News, and the following exchange ensued between Doocy and Mayorkas:
Doocy: You said … on the 20th, “To ensure control of the horse, long reins are used.” The person who took these photos of the Border Patrol agents says, “I’ve never seen them whip anyone.” So, why is the President out there today talking about people being “strapped”?
Mayorkas: So let me — let me correct the statements in your question, if I may. It was —
Doocy: They’re direct quotes.
Mayorkas: No, no — if I may. It was on Friday when I was — actually, it was on Monday, I believe, when I was in Del Rio on the ground and I made the statements without having seen the images. I saw the images on the flight back, and I made the statement that I did with respect to what those images suggested.
There — the horses have long reins, and the image in the photograph that we all saw, and that horrified the nation, raised serious questions about what it — let me finish — about what occurred and of — as I stated quite clearly, it conjured up images of what has occurred in the past.
Let me — let me finish.
There’s also a question of how one uses the horse and how one interacts with individuals with the horse. And so I’m going to let the investigation run its course. I’m not going to interfere with that investigation. The facts will be determined by the investigators, and then the results will be driven by the facts that are determined.
Doocy: And just to follow up, please — before the facts are in, is it helpful to your investigation for the President of the United States to use inflammatory language, like people being “strapped”?
Mayorkas: Let me just be very clear and repeat what I’ve said: I am not concerned with respect to the integrity of the investigation. We know how to conduct an investigation with integrity. I served as — 12 years as a federal prosecutor. There were a great deal of comments in many of the cases that I handled in the public sphere, and I know how to maintain the integrity of an investigation, and this investigation will have integrity. [Emphasis added.]
Another reporter later asked about the treatment of the Haitian migrants, which led to a follow-up question that began “the whipping — the whips, the horse whips —”. Mayorkas cut that off, responding:
Sir, that is something — that is something that horrified us all. And, you know, this morning, I was on radio, and the interviewer said that it was — it troubled, very profoundly, the Black and the African American community. And I said one thing — and this should be clear: Those are not the only communities that it horrified. Those are not the only communities that it concerned. Of course, that concern might be most acute, given the history in this country and in other parts of the world. But all of America is horrified to see what those images suggest. [Emphasis added.]
The E-Mail. Which brings me to an e-mail from Marsha Espinosa, DHS’s assistant secretary for public affairs to Mayorkas, dated 12:05:33 on September 24, 2021. It was obtained via a FOIA request by the Heritage Foundation, and contains a cut and paste to a September 23, 2021, article from KTSM, the NBC affiliate in El Paso, Texas, headlined “Photographer behind controversial photos speaks exclusively to KTSM”.
Doocy was apparently referencing that article, which explains:
The photographer behind images depicting Border Patrol agents on horseback told KTSM things are not exactly what they seem when it comes to the photos.
The photographs, which were taken Sunday, appear to show agents on horses with a whip in hand. The photos caused outrage because from certain angles, it appears to show Border Patrol whipping migrants, but photographer Paul Ratje said he and his colleagues never saw agents whipping anyone.

“I’ve never seen them whip anyone,” Ratje said. “He was swinging it, but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.”
The photos drew immense criticism from many on social media and the White House said it will investigate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called images “horrific.” [Emphasis added.]
Each of those excerpts was included in Espinosa’s e-mail to Mayorkas, which again was sent more than two hours before Mayorkas appeared with Psaki at the afternoon presser.
The Latest Fallout. That e-mail has raised a lot of questions. In an October 12 letter to Mayorkas, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked the secretary whether he had received the e-mail, informed the White House prior to its press conference about it, and “apologized to the Border Patrol agents for unfairly vilifying them and their work”.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) tweeted:

If reports are true, then Secretary Mayorkas should resign. This is a failure of leadership and a complete betrayal of the hardworking Border Patrol agents who have been doing their best to maintain some control of the border in midst of this administration’s failed policies. https://t.co/1r77XeAUwT
— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) October 12, 2022

For his part, George Washington University Law School Prof. Jonathan Turley weighed in on October 12 contending that “Mayorkas betrayed not just his agents but his oath to ‘well and faithfully discharge’ the duties of his office in his handling of the ‘whipping scandal’”.
Bitingly, Turley concluded:
Ironically, [Mayorkas] did precisely what the agents were accused of doing. He and the President flogged these agents in public because they did not warrant any respect or consideration. To use his own words, that is something that should horrify us all.
None of this is a good look for Biden, Mayorkas, or their fellow Democrats, with midterm congressional elections less than a month away and support for their border agenda dangerously low. Both DHS and the White House clownishly blundered their way through the entire “Del Rio” episode and beyond, stepping on metaphorical rakes that slapped them in the face with each turn.
Worse, however, they attempted to extricate themselves from the ignominy by throwing not just the agents — who, by the way, never asked to be in Del Rio — but also the country and its values under the bus. No one disputes that there were dark chapters in the story of this republic, but to hear the president and secretary speak, the United States never turned the page.
What Did Biden and Mayorkas Know, and When Did They Know it? During the Watergate hearings in June 1973, the late Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) asked the question that has become his legacy: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
When it comes to “Del Rio” writ large — the chaos, the false accusations, the suffering, unpreparedness, and blunders — as well as the humanitarian disaster at the Southwest border that spawned it, both the current president and DHS secretary should be asked the same question. To quote Joe Biden: “It’s an embarrassment, but beyond an embarrassment, it is dangerous”.

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization founded in 1985. It is the nation’s only think tank devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.

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