EXCLUSIVE: President Biden on Friday left Border Patrol agents stunned after repeating debunked claims that Del Rio agents whipped or “strapped” Haitian migrants, while promising to make those agents “pay.”
Biden weighed in on the controversy over images that emerged Sunday of agents on horseback blocking Haitian migrants from entering the U.S.
Claims that agents, who were using long reins to control their horses, were using “whips” were quickly debunked by officials and other agents – but activists and elected Democrats have continued to fuel it. The photographer who took the images said Friday he did not see any agents whipping migrants.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had pushed back against the narrative alongside Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, but a day later – after the White House had called the images “horrific” – went on CNN and said the images “troubled me profoundly” before adding that “one cannot weaponize a horse” against migrants.
On Friday, amid an ongoing investigation into the agents – who have now been shifted to desk duty – and a day after the Biden administration barred the use of horses in Del Rio, the president tore into those agents.
“To see people treated like they did, horses barely running over, people being strapped – it’s outrageous,” Biden said, 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. There will be consequences.”
Border Patrol agents were stunned and angered by the comments, which both claimed without evidence that migrants were run over and whipped, and at the same time cast a shadow over the investigation.
“Would you go to work and do your best knowing that if you do your boss is going to ‘make you pay’?” one agent told Fox News. “I’m dumbfounded and don’t know what to say.”
The agent asked, “Is the president threatening to throw us in prison?”
Another said: “I see the administration wants to fry our agents. He just started a war with Border Patrol.”
Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council, asked how there could be a fair investigation now that Biden had weighed in.
“Now that the president of the United States has already said they did wrong, how is an investigator supposed to do a true and honest investigation?” he told Fox News. “Because if that investigator finds they did nothing wrong — and they didn’t do anything wrong — but if that investigator finds they didn’t do anything wrong, how is that investigator’s job going to go?
Judd said Biden’s comments were “completely and totally outrageous” and accused Biden of “playing politics with Border Patrol agents’ lives.”
Judd again backed the agents at the center of the investigation and noted that they were doing the job they were tasked with doing by the same president who was now throwing them under the bus.
“Nobody was struck by a rein, not one person was struck by a rein, not one person was run over by those horses. They used the tactics they were trained to use, to do the job [Biden] sent them out to do — these are executive branch employees,” he said. “He sent them out there to do the job, and now he’s criticizing them because his base wants them to.”
Judd said he was mad over the comments, and said the anger was shared by his fellow agents.
“Since he’s made that comment, my phone has obviously blown up. People are beyond incensed right now,” he said.
Former acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan told Fox News agents have been “condemned, careers ruined and reputations irreparably harmed, without any due process — all to distract from the out of control catastrophic crisis at our southern border.”
“How will they get a fair impartial inquiry now when everyone in the chain of command all the way up to the president of the United States has already concluded they are already guilty of some form of atrocity?” Morgan, also a former Border Patrol chief, told Fox News in an interview.
“For the president to say that, he has become emotionally unhinged and caved to the woke cancel culture,” he said. “The agents feel betrayed, stabbed in the back, demoralized.”
“This year’s ongoing immigration crisis has single-handedly done more to hurt the morale of the Border Patrol workforce than any other year in its history, and it didn’t have to happen like this,” National Border Patrol Council Vice President Jon Anfinsen told Fox News.
Fox News previously had spoken to several of the horse agents who had been sidelines by the ban on the use of horses. They said they were angry and frustrated about the false “whip” narrative, with one telling Fox News he’s now giving out meals and turning lights on and off rather than patrolling the border.
He said the kids in the camp loved the horses and the horses are now locked in a stall all day.
The agents also said the pictures also show one of the migrants grabbing onto the reins of an agent’s horse, which is a use of force approval for them to use deadly force if they wanted to.
Another agent who spoke to Fox News on Friday said that their entire station is outraged at the controversy, and hoped that the agents at the center of it eventually sue.
“I am appalled but not surprised that this President would stand at a national televised address and bold face lie or again show his utter incompetence, to the press and the American people, including his childish threats of retaliation,” the agent said.
That agent also accused Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz as being “missing in action” over the controversy.
“This is really pushing the morale to lows not seen before…just when you think it is at its lowest in comes this administration to push it lower,” the agent said.
Judd said Border Patrol agents, despite their morale being low, would keep doing their job — although he warned they would likely be second-guessing their actions, a move that could be dangerous for law enforcement and those they are seeking to protect.
“I know these agents…. even though they do not have the support of this president, they’re still going to go out and they’re still going to do their job, because they do care about this country, they do care about border security, they do care about the safety of the citizens of this country,” he said. “So they’re still going to do their job, but they’re going to be second-guessing themselves in everything that they do, knowing that the president, without the benefit of an investigation, is already condemning them.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.