A little over a year ago, border patrol agents were accused of whipping Hattian migrants as they crossed the border into Del Rio, Texas. But as it turns out, as many already had suspected, no whipping actually occurred and Heritage has the proof. This week, Mike Howell, Director of Heritage’s Oversight Project explains exactly what happened, how we found out, and what should be done now that the truth is free.
Michelle Cordero: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Michelle Cordero, and this is Heritage Explains. A little over a year ago, border patrol agents were accused of whipping Haitian migrants as they crossed the border in Del Rio, Texas. The incident gained major media attention and garnered responses from top government officials.
Clip 1: The next image might be tough to look at, but it's important to look at. The El Paso Times reported that a mounted border patrol agent was seen wielding a whip during an encounter with Haitian migrants.
Clip 2: The White House condemned U.S. border patrol agents on Monday who were seen using a whip-like cord to block Haitian migrants carrying supplies into the U.S. for Mexico. White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, said she had seen some of the footage, calling it, "Unacceptable".
Cordero: Here's President Joe Biden responding.
President Biden: To see people treated like they did, horses really running them over, to people being strapped, it's outrageous. I promise you those people will pay.
Cordero: Here's Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Alejandro Mayorkas: We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation's ongoing battle against systemic racism.
Cordero: Representative Maxine Waters even went as far as to say the incident was worse than slavery.
Representative Maxine Waters: What we witness takes us back hundreds of years. What we witnessed was worse than what we witnessed in slavery. Cowboys with their reins, again whipping Black people.
Cordero: But as it turns out, as many already had suspected, no whipping actually occurred, and Heritage has the proof. Today, Mike Howell, Director of Heritage's Oversight Project will explain exactly what did happen, how we found out and what should be done now that the truth is free. Our conversation after this short break.
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Cordero: Mike, thank you so much for joining us.
Mike Howell: Hey, thanks for having me.
Cordero: About a year ago, border patrol agents were accused of whipping Haitian migrants as they crossed the border. We went over this a little bit in our intro, but can you kind of paint a picture of what that was like when this story broke back then? How were these agents treated?
Howell: Right. In Del Rio, Texas, which really is one of the hot spots for the Biden border crisis, this was when a bunch of Haitians were coming in large numbers to the U.S., but a group of Haitians was illegally crossing the border down there right outside Del Rio. A group of agents was trying to control them and interdict them as they were legally breaking into our country. The border patrol agents, some of them were on horseback. Horseback law enforcement is used routinely at all levels of law enforcement, primarily as a means of crowd control and to gather large groups of people. Horsebacks are long used in border patrol also for navigating rough terrain. Obviously, the border of the U.S./Mexico isn't all paved road and beautiful. It's a tough spot.
Basically, what happened was this large group was coming across, not heeding any directions from our border patrol and the horses were engaged in trying to control the crowd, not doing anything unusual. But there happened to be a photographer there, and the photographer there snapped a picture, and soon enough via social media and in the regular cable news media, this picture emerged in a bunch of people, accused these border patrol agents of whipping the migrants with the reins on their horse.
That did not happen, yet basically, a national audience of very online people consuming these pitchers, seeing a horse and then just jumping to the conclusion, "Oh my gosh, they're whipping them." But nonetheless, this thing spread.
Cordero: It wasn't just people on social media. It was the president of the United States and high officials that were condemning these agents.
Howell: Right. It was the tail wagging the dog. It was a woke, vitriolic crowd on social media, and then it rose to such a level that our "national leaders" felt the need to jump in and respond, and so what you started seeing was cable news shows weighing in and condemning. Then you also saw members of Congress, all the Democratic side, weighing in and condemning them and accusing the agents of whipping. It basically culminated in a press conference with the President of the United States saying that he's going to punish these guys. Then also Secretary Mayorkas went up there and said that these images, i.e., the photographs, conjured up some of the worst memories of systemic racism in this country. They went all in on some woke narrative based off of this whipping lie that had already spread and become, basically, dogma on the left. They were all up in arms about it.
Cordero: Okay, so now to the crux of today's episode, what is it that The Heritage Foundation found out?
Howell: We launched this Oversight Project back in January, which basically is a recognition that the next couple years in Congress, if the majorities flip, is going to be a lot of oversight and accountability, and so, recognizing that this is the least transparent administration in American history, we decided that we needed to start suing for information that can be used to help the public and our leaders figure out how to hold people accountable.
The first thing we sued on, and this was about six months ago, was for documents and communications that went to the DHS front office, i.e., Secretary Mayorkas, related to this whipping incident. We got some communications that were sent to Mayorkas right before he went up and gave that really heated speech at the White House. One such communication that we found was an email from his top press staffer, a woman by the name of Marsha Espinosa. She had forwarded to Mayorkas an article. In this article was a comment from the photographer that was there, the one source that was neither border patrol or a Haitian, illegal alien. The photographer said there was no whipping, "I saw no whipping."
Marsha Espinosa highlighted this part for Secretary Mayorkas, and Mayorkas went up and gave his press conference and did not make use of this information that would've cleared the border patrol agents in light of this public outcry and these false accusations being levied at them from media, Democrat congressmen, and even the President of the United States. He chose to ignore the information to preserve the far left narrative on this whole incident. That's email we got. We released it a week ago. It has fueled the fire for calls for Mayorkas's impeachment, which he was already on the hot seat for, but this really moved a lot of people from the camp of, I don't know if we should do that, to, he's got to go.
Cordero: Then, I mean, in addition to that, these agents, they lost their jobs.
Howell: They were put on unpaid leave. What happened was they said they were going to investigate. At DHS they said it would be done in a matter of weeks. That, obviously, did not happen. What they did is they enlisted just this insanely overproduced investigation that took months and months and months. In the course of this investigation, they ultimately decided there was no whipping, we could prove no whipping, but we're going to punish these agents anyways, because we thought they were being threatening and using abusive language. They docked them 14 days of pay and basically switched their job duties. They punished them.
Now the reason why there was such a long investigation here is because it was very obvious to the lawyers and everyone else that there was no whipping and whatnot. But the problem was Mayorkas and Biden went out and told the whole country how disgusted they were with them. They sat on this thing until the narrative kind of went away for a while, because they couldn't go back to their far left supporters and say, "Hey, I know I told you guys that we agreed with you that there was whipping, but we found there was no whipping." They basically engaged this really long process, dragged it out and hoped that nobody would notice. Well, we noticed. We sued, and we got what I just went out and discussed with you, and there's a lot more coming.
Cordero: What do you think needs to happen next?
Howell: A lot of things. Mayorkas has to go. He should have resigned a long time ago for his purposely causing and continuing this border crisis. But I think this is just icing on the cake of reasons why he absolutely needs to be out of that job, whether through resignation, removal, impeachment, what have you. He just cannot be the DHS secretary. Second, what we're really asking for is that Congress steps in and clears these agents' records. They have suffered mentally, personally. This has been a legal effort, which is not cheap. It hits the Border Patrol Union that helps them out. It hits a lot of folks. They need to be made whole from this fraudulent kind of ends-driven investigation. Furthermore, I would like to see them awarded some sort of special recognition. I'm not going to stop there. Give the horses a medal, too. They deserve it, too.
Cordero: All right. Well, in conclusion, I have a question for you that I'm thinking that some of America may be thinking, as well. We've got midterm elections approaching. Should there be a change in power in Congress? Can we make any changes to this crisis at the border or is this all in Biden's hands?
Howell: Well, yes, Congress can. Obviously, that would require a veto-proof majority, which is not likely. Keep in mind that Biden causes crisis on purpose. He is downstream a far left globalist who do not believe in U.S. sovereignty or a secure border. They don't want us to be an independent nation. This all is done on purpose. They opened the border for a reason, so Biden's not going to close it. Legislation needs to pass at some point when the political environment allows it, but we need to begin with at least the House passing a bill. We've pushed forward a coalition effort with all the former Trump border security leaders and the large outside groups that really lead on this, to close all the loopholes that they've been able to take advantage of.On the legislative front, that absolutely needs to happen, but they can also withhold funding. I mean, there is no reason, I think, Mayorkas needs to ever get a paycheck from the U.S. taxpayers again, or anyone who's purposely in this just betrayal of our country program to open up our borders. They all have to be held accountable and funding withheld. If it means shutting down parts of the government to get it done, well, that's just what Congress might have to do. We need to keep the heat up, get this information out.
It's crazy that we had to sue for this and over the course of several months. This is not a free country when the government can just lie and withhold information like this and your last resort is setting up a litigation and oversight arm at The Heritage Foundation to get this type of info out, but that's the war we're in. You don't always pick the war. Sometimes war comes to you, and so that's how we're fighting now. But I think people need to realize this is not how a free country should operate when the government is just weaponized against its own people.
Cordero: I couldn't agree more. Mike, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for the work that you're doing with the Oversight Committee. I know you said there's more coming next. I'm torn between whether I'm excited about it or not, because it's probably bad news, but thank you for the work that you're doing and joining us on Heritage Explains.
Howell: Hey, I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
Cordero: That's it for this week's episode of Heritage Explains. I'm going to link to the Fox News report that broke on Heritage's Oversight Project findings. Thank you for listening each and every week. We appreciate you. We'll see you next time.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher with editing by John Popp.