The latest revelations about the year-long controversy over false claims that Border Patrol agents “whipped” or “strapped” Haitian migrants are likely to exacerbate already sour relations between Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and agents.
Fox News reported Tuesday how Mayorkas was told hours before a White House press conference in September 2021 that the photographer who captured a clash between Border Patrol agents and Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, days earlier had said that the incident was being misconstrued.
A narrative had emerged that agents on horseback had whipped migrants and was being perpetuated by top Democrats and the White House. But the photographer had told outlets he had not seen any whipping.
Instead, agents were using their long reins to control their horses. A subsequent investigation would fault agents on a number of issues, including incorrect radio use and maneuvering a horse close to a child, but found that agents do not carry whips nor did they strike migrants with their reins.
However, despite the narrative being debunked almost immediately, President Biden on Sept. 24 fueled the “whipping” narrative, saying that agents had “strapped” migrants and promised that “those people would pay.”
Hours later at a separate press conference, Mayorkas failed to challenge that narrative that migrants had been whipped, despite having been told hours earlier in an email by a top DHS official that a news article showed the photographer who took the images did not see any whipping.
“The images horrified us in terms of what they suggest and what they conjure up,” Mayorkas said at the press conference even as he promised to let the investigation “take its course.”
“Our nation saw horrifying images that do not reflect who we are. We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas was later asked about “the whipping … the whips, the horse whips” by a reporter. The Homeland Security chief responded “that is something that horrified us all.”
The email, obtained by the Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project, sparked anger from National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, who told Fox News that it was “smoking-gun evidence.”
“It clearly shows they are willing to lie to the American people for their self-interests,” he said. “They withheld facts, and any time you withhold facts from the American people, you should step down from your job. Better men step down. This clearly shows they are not better men.”
An investigation ultimately cleared the agents of any whipping but faulted them on administrative charges. The process is still ongoing with the agents expected to challenge the findings.
The revelation comes as the Border Patrol is facing a morale crisis in its ranks, with many agents furious at the Biden administration’s handling of the border crisis, which has seen agents overwhelmed and frustrated by what some see as top officials throwing the Del Rio agents under the bus with the “whipping” drama.
Mayorkas has encountered that criticism first-hand on trips to the border. He had what he called a “tough trip” in February during which he noted “struggling” morale and complained about the alleged unprofessionalism of some agents.
“It was a tough trip because we confronted a work force … whose morale is struggling, is down, and that’s a responsibility I have to address it,” he said in an interview.
Mayorkas also referenced a number of tense incidents during his visit to the border, including one agent turning his back on him. Another agent reportedly pressed he Homeland Security chief on how agents are unable to patrol the border due to the policies of the Biden administration, while another reportedly said that Yuma was better under former President Donald Trump as “everyone was doing their jobs.”
“I really appreciated the openness with which the agents expressed their views,” he said. “A couple of guys might have expressed them what I felt was unprofessionally, which was surprising to me because it’s something I’ve never seen in the Border Patrol in my … eight years of person-to-person exposure.”
Former Trump officials and border agents told Fox News Digital that the latest revelations would only make that tensions worse.
“I swear if I was not pushing 16 years of service, I would quit the Patrol,” one agent said. “I do not understand why anyone would join and serve this corrupt administration. Liberals hate us.”
“It is infuriating,” he added.
Tom Homan, a former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director and a former Border Patrol agent himself, told Fox News Digital that it makes a big difference when frontline agents don’t think their bosses have their backs.
“When you’re out there, and you’re trying to enforce the law, if you know that the administration does not have your back and the administration is theoretically against everything you’re doing because they want open borders, you’re going to act differently,” he said.
“It’s a dangerous job. Your mind needs to be on the job and not on the consequences of you arresting somebody,” he said. “After that horse whipping incident, Border Patrol agents just started throwing their hands up in the air. They’re not going to take the risks they would normally take to make an apprehension if they don’t feel like they’re protected in doing the job.“
“This story is going to just further destroy the morale, whatever is left of it,” he said.
Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan said the email shows that Mayorkas chose a “partisan path” by not pushing back on the “whipping” narrative.
“He had a choice. He chose to intentionally omit a key piece of evidence that he had: an essential piece that would have immediately derailed the false narrative and driven the rhetoric down. The issue would have all but went away at that press conference,” he said.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, he said that the whipping incident was the “final nail in the coffin” for agent morale.
“They’ve lost all respect. They’ve lost all respect in the cabinet-level position, the secretary. And that that will absolutely impact not just their morale but how effectively and efficiently that they’re able to do their job,” he said.
Fox News’ Bill Melugin and Peter Hasson contributed to this report.