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Activists have more questions after Border Patrol investigation of Del Rio incident

A report from Customs and Border Protection says Border Patrol agents used unnecessary force against Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, last year. But the investigation is leaving some activists with more questions.

Some 15,000 mostly Haitians gathered under a bridge in Del Rio to ask for asylum in the U.S. last September.

The more than 500-page  report comes from Custom and Border Protection's Office of Professional Responsibility. It centers on what the agency says is an incident that lasted around 15 minutes. 

Images show Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing, grabbing and yelling at migrants as they emerged from the Rio Grande after crossing into Mexico for food and supplies. The tails of the agents’ long rope reins are seen flying through the air, other images show agents twirling the reigns.

At the time of the photos' release, many said the agents appeared to be striking or whipping people with the reigns. 

But the report released this month concludes that while agents on horseback used unnecessary force to control nonviolent migrants, they did not use their reins to whip anyone, either unintentionally or intentionally. 

The report includes more than two dozen interviews with Border Patrol and other law enforcement personnel, but no migrants. 

Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent turned agency whistleblower, was in Del Rio last year, days after the incident.  

"So you’re telling me, you’re the biggest law enforcement agency in the country, you start the investigation the very next day, and everybody is in your custody, and you’re telling me you can’t find them?" she said.

Budd said the investigation should have looked more into the lead up to the incident and why some of the agents on horseback began chasing the migrants in the first place. As the report notes, Border Patrol agents were allowing migrants to cross back and forth across the Rio Grande river for food and other supplies, due to the lack of resources and extreme head in Del Rio.

In the weeks following the incident, the majority of Haitian asylum seekers gathered in Del Rio were sent back to Haiti or turned back to Mexico under the pandemic-era protocol, Title 42. 

Haitian families who were chased by the agents on horseback that day joined a lawsuit against the Biden administration with San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance at the end of the year. Their suit alleges they suffered human rights abuses and violations in Del Rio and under Title 42 at large. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.