FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesBorder Patrol to Stop Using Horses in Del Rio After Unproven Claims Mounted Officers Were ‘Whipping’ Crossers

Former Sector Chief Rudy Karisch called it a “rash decision” that could adversely impact border security operations.
September 24, 2021
The Biden administration has announced that United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will no longer patrol on horses in Del Rio after widely shared photos and video of border guards ushering illegal aliens on horseback gained reactions from politicians and the White House.

In a press conference on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the administration will “no longer be using horses in Del Rio.”

“[W]e feel those images are horrible and horrific. There is an investigation the president certainly supports, overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, which he has conveyed will happen quickly,” Psaki said.

Chief Rodolfo “Rudy” Karisch was in the United States Border Patrol for more than 30 years, serving as the sector chief in the Tucson sector and the Rio Grande Valley sector before he retired in December 2019.

In a call with The Texan, Karisch called it a “poor decision” and said it was likely made with “input from the White House.”

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“Having spent time on the horse patrol myself, I definitely see that there’s value to have that as a tool because they can get into areas that motorized vehicles cannot, especially in environmentally safe areas,” Karisch said.

“I mean, I’ve used them on the northern border, I’ve used them on the southern border, actually rogue when I was in El Paso. So, it’s a very valuable tool.”

Karish noted that horses are particularly useful in areas with thick brush or on ground where it would be “almost impossible” to access with a vehicle.

Calling it a “very rash decision” to pull an entire unit’s horses, Karisch explained that the proper way to approach a misconduct allegation is to inquire into the specific incident in question.

“I think anytime you see that, it’s dangerous for people to come to a conclusion until you can have all of the facts in front of you, exactly what the agents were doing, which would include interviewing the people and talking to the individuals that they were trying to take into custody,” Karisch told The Texan.

“So, there’s a lot that goes into this. But for you to pull back and remove an entire unit, it’s ridiculous.”

Karisch emphasized that removing horses from border patrol agents who are already stretched thin tending to the humanitarian issues that accompany illegal immigration makes their jobs only that much more difficult.

CBP often rescues people who were attempting to cross illegally and were abandoned by their groups or otherwise ended up in distress.

Karisch also pointed to the due process rights of the agents being accused.

“Why has the president, vice president, and DHS Secretary already condemned the actions of agents involved without giving them due process?” Karisch contended.

“Any allegation of misconduct must be investigated before one can render a judgment. Yet, in this case, individuals in the highest seats of government have already passed judgment without examining all the facts.”

Paul Ratje, a photographer who was taking pictures on Sunday from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, indicated to local media that he did not see anyone being whipped. Ratje is reportedly the one who took the photos that spurred the public backlash.

Vice President Kamala Harris was among the chorus of Democrats, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) and United States Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), who were quick to express outrage over the images.

“What I saw depicted — about those individuals on horseback — treating human beings the way they were was horrible, and I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into exactly what is going on there,” Harris said to reporters.

The videos in question show border agents at the Rio Grande River in Val Verde County trying to prevent mostly Haitian individuals from reentering the United States from Mexico. 

They appear to twirl or gesture with the split reins, making it appear from certain camera angles that someone was being “whipped.” The border guards were more likely trying to control their horses, but the misapprehended video footage quickly prompted a shower of political commentary.

Appearing with United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, CBP Chief Raul Ortiz said at a press conference in Del Rio on Monday that horses would play an “integral part” of the agency’s efforts.

“We do not know who are the smugglers and who are the migrants, so it’s important that those border patrol agents maintain a level of security for both themselves and for the migrant population as they were trafficking back and forth,” Ortiz said.

While both Mayorkas said the matter would be investigated, he explained that “to ensure control of the horse, long reins are used.”

Then, on Tuesday, Mayorkas told a United States Senate committee that he had not seen the images until “late yesterday” and that they “horrified” him. 

Thousands of illegal aliens poured into Val Verde County last week after the Biden administration stopped deportation flights to Haiti earlier this month and the federal government extended temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians who arrived before July 29.

Many illegal aliens camped under and near the Del Rio International Bridge had been wading across the river between Mexico and their encampment to retrieve supplies.

“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open, or that Temporary Protected Status is available,” Mayorkas said in Del Rio on Monday. “I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States.”

The secretary emphasized that TPS is only granted for Haitians who were present before the July 29 cutoff, and he said illegally immigrating is “not worth the tragedy, the money, or the effort.”

Mayorkas said on Friday that the Del Rio encampment has been cleared and approximately 2,000 Haitians have been deported. More than 15,000 illegal aliens were at the encampment.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."