Just hours before Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined a White House press conference during which a story of Border Patrol agents supposedly "whipping" migrants was shared, it has been revealed that he was informed that the allegations had been debunked.
A September 24, 2021 email revealed DHS's internal conversation surrounding the controversy in Del Rio, Texas, where photographs of Haitian migrants seemingly being "whipped" by CBP agents were taken, and then circulated by the Biden administration and other members of the Democratic Party, according to Fox News.
The email, obtained by the Heritage Foundation via a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA), shows assistant secretary of DHS public affairs, Marsha Espinosa, notifying Mayorkas and other DHS leadership of a news article that revealed that the photographer who took the images in question did not see any whipping, after President Joe Biden claimed otherwise earlier that day. In her message, Espinosa highlighted the comments where the photographer directly said that he did not witness whipping, according to Fox News.
In actuality, the Border Patrol agents, who were riding on horseback, were pictured using split reins to control their horses as migrants attempted to cross the Rio Grande. However, the false narrative painting the agents as racists who physically assaulted black migrants was already spreading and being pushed by President Joe Biden.
"To see people treated like they did, horses barely running over, people being strapped — it's outrageous," Biden said at the White House press conference just hours before Espinosa's email, while 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."
Espinosa's email was obtained by the Heritage Foundation's Oversight Project. When DHS didn't produce the documents they requested in March, Heritage successfully sued in June and all communications surrounding the "whipping" incident were recently turned over.
While the investigation into the incident is still ongoing over a year later, the Office of Professional Responsibility in July found that no whips were in CBP possession, and further, no migrant was struck by the reins.
Two and a half hours after receiving Espinosa's email, Mayorkas joined the White House press conference, where he continued to push the false narrative.
"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 told reporters.
This was completely opposite to the sentiment Mayorkas had displayed earlier in the week, when he spoke alongside Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz and defended the agents. In his earlier statement, Mayorkas even pointed out that CBP agents use long reins to control their horses, not to whip migrants.
According to the New York Post, both Mayorkas and Ruiz "saw nothing obviously wrong" with how the agents acted based on their initial viewings of the images.
During the press conference at the White House, Mayorkas changed his tune despite receiving the truth from his own assistant secretary.
"The images horrified us in terms of what they suggest and what they conjure up," Mayorkas told reporters. Of his initial remarks, he simply said "I made the statements without having seen the images."
"I saw the images on the flight back, and I made the statement that I did with respect to what those images suggested," he claimed.
When asked about the discrepancy between the photographer's recount of no one being whipped and the president's claims to the contrary, Mayorkas referenced the nation's history of slavery.
"The horses have long reins, and the image in the photograph that we all saw, and that horrified the nation, raised serious questions about what…occurred and as I stated quite clearly, it conjured up images of what has occurred in the past," he said.
"There's also a question of how one uses the horse and how one interacts with individuals with the horse," he said. "And so I'm going to let the investigation run its course."
Later on in the conference, a reporter asked him about the "whipping," to which the Homeland Security chief responded with "that is something that horrified us all."
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