Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas doubled down on his criticism of Border Patrol horse patrol agents who had blocked Haitian migrants from entering the U.S., claiming the images “conjured up” America’s history of “systemic racism” – even as the narrative promoted by the White House that migrants were whipped continues to crumble.
Mayorkas spoke at the White House press briefing, and said that the images of agents in Del Rio that emerged Sunday turning back Haitian migrants were “horrifying” and “do not reflect who we are, who we aspire to be for 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,” he said.
Initial claims that agents, who were using long reins to control their horses, were using “whips” were quickly debunked by officials and other agents – but activists and elected Democrats have continued to fuel it, while claiming it “evoked” images of slavery because the migrants are Black.
Meanwhile, the photographer who took the images said Friday he did not see any agents whipping migrants, and more video was released showing no whips, and only a short interaction between a migrant and an agent who turns him away.
Mayorkas initially pushed back against the narrative, but a day later – after the White House had called the images “horrific” – went on CNN and said the images “troubled me profoundly” before adding that “one cannot weaponize a horse” against migrants.
The agents have since been moved to desk duty and an investigation is ongoing. Mayorkas was also asked if he is considering eliminating the Border Patrol horses altogether.
“We’re going to take a look,” he said.
Mayorkas claimed on Friday that he did not wish to “prejudge the facts” or impair an investigation, but that comes after President Biden had promised that agents would be punished and had pushed the “whip” narrative.
“To see people treated like they did, horses barely running over, people being strapped – it’s outrageous,” Biden said, making a whipping motion with his hand. “I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation underway now and there will be consequences. There will be consequences.”
Border Patrol agents were stunned and angered by the comments, which both claimed without evidence that migrants were run over and whipped, and at the same time cast a shadow over the investigation.
“Would you go to work and do your best knowing that if you do your boss is going to ‘make you pay’?” one agent told Fox News. “I’m dumbfounded and don’t know what to say.”
Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council, asked how there could be a fair investigation now that Biden had weighed in.
“Nobody was struck by a rein, not one person was struck by a rein, not one person was run over by those horses. They used the tactics they were trained to use, to do the job [Biden] sent them out to do — these are executive branch employees,” he said. “He sent them out there to do the job, and now he’s criticizing them because his base wants them to.”
Fox News’ Peter Hasson and Bill Melugin contributed to this report.