The Biden administration says it is avoiding a “rush to judgement” by allowing a “comprehensive” investigation into a clash between Border Patrol agents and illegal migrants this week – possibly seeking to avoid a repeat of the controversy over “whipping” allegations that dogged the administration last year.
“Before there’s a rush to judgement, seems better to allow a comprehensive and fair investigation as most personnel in any job would want,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus tweeted Thursday.
He was referring to an incident on Monday in which a group of Venezuelan migrants illegally crossed into El Paso, Texas, as they waved an enormous flag. Agents can be seen on video pushing migrants back into the river while firing pepper balls near them to control the crowd.
In a statement, CBP said a group of Venezuelans had attempted to illegally enter the U.S. while protesting along the Rio Grande’s international boundary.
ILLEGAL MIGRANTS WAVE VENEZUELAN FLAG AFTER CROSSING US SOUTHERN BORDER, ATTACK BORDER PATROL AGENTS
The agency said one of the protesters assaulted an agent with a flagpole while another threw a rock at agents, injuring one in the process. That, in turn, led the Border Patrol to initiate crowd-control measures.
“These measures included the use of the authorized less-lethal force pepperball launching system,” the statement said. “The crowd then dispersed and returned to Mexico.”
CBP said its Office of Professional Responsibility was reviewing the incident.
However, the incident drew immediate condemnation from activist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which called the incident “the latest in a long line of abuses carried out by CBP.”
“Our government’s failed attempts at preventing people from seeking protection in the U.S. lead to death and suffering. The Biden administration must restore a humane process for seeking asylum,” the group said.
That caused consternation from the National Border Patrol Council, which told the group: “Go to hell.”
On Tuesday, hours after CBP released its initial statement, Magnus issued a separate statement saying he was “monitoring reports” about the incident.
“During this event, preliminary reports indicate that several individuals became combative and physically assaultive, resulting in the deployment of pepper ball munitions – a less-than-lethal system that agents are trained to use in order to protect themselves and others from attack,” he said.
On Thursday, Magnus hinted at why he was not being clearer in his statements about the incident.
“Many have complained when conclusions about past incidents have been drawn with limited or inaccurate information,” he said.
While he did not say to which incidents he was referring, the Biden administration has been involved in a still-lingering controversy over a clash between migrants and Border Patrol agents in Del Rio Sector last year.
MAYORKAS ‘WHIPGATE’ BOMBSHELL LIKELY TO WORSEN RELATIONS BETWEEN DHS CHIEF, BORDER AGENTS
In September 2021, agents on horseback attempted to stop Haitian migrants from crossing a river in Del Rio. As they did so they used their long reins to control their horses, but images were misinterpreted by some online and in the administration who said the agents had used whips against the migrants.
That narrative was subsequently fueled by the Biden administration, including the president – who falsely accused agents of having “strapped” migrants and promised that “those people will pay.”
Hours later at a press conference, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas did not dispute the whipping narrative, despite having been told the photographer had not seen any whipping. Instead, Mayorkas called the images “horrifying” and said they “painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism.”
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While a subsequent investigation did fault the agents on more minor violations, including riding a horse too close to a child, it found agents did not have whips, nor did they assault any migrants. The Biden administration’s fueling of that false narrative drew condemnation from Republicans and the Border Patrol union, and is widely seen to have further soured relations between the administration and its agents.
Mayorkas has so far not commented on Monday’s clash.
Fox News’ Bill Melugin contributed to this report.