Federal officials are investigating an incident captured on video in which a Border Patrol agent punched a migrant to the ground in El Paso, Texas, Customs and Border Protection said Saturday. In recent months, the border city has struggled to accommodate tens of thousands of migrants fleeing economic collapse, poverty and authoritarian rule.
Local volunteers in El Paso said the incident happened Friday morning outside a shelter housing newly arrived migrants. They said Border Patrol agents apprehended a migrant using “excessive force.”
Surveillance video shared with CBS News appears to show a Border Patrol agent seeking to take custody of a suspected migrant outside a building. After appearing to push the migrant near the building, the agent grabbed the migrant and knocked him to the ground, the video shows. The agent then appears to handcuff the migrant, who remains on the ground, while another agent observes the arrest.
The 38-second video, which shows bystanders observing the incident, does not show what led to the arrest or subsequent events.
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the video showed a Border Patrol agent making the arrest. The agency said the Office of Professional Responsibility is “reviewing the incident.”
“While we do not currently have all the details of what happened during this incident, CBP takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, thoroughly investigates and holds employees accountable when policies are violated,” the agency said.
Volunteers said the incident was alarming.
“Today, an individual receiving services at the Welcome Center, located at 201 E. 9th Avenue, was apprehended in front of the facility by Customs and Border Protection officers with what we believe to be excessive force. To our knowledge, this is an isolated incident. It raises however, concerns for the well-being of the individual taken into custody and all the guests receiving services in our homeless programs,” said Ray Tullius, founder of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, the group that shared surveillance video outside one of the shelters.
President Biden will visit El Paso on Sunday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Earlier this week, Mr. Biden unveiled a new strategy toby deporting migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to Mexico if they attempt to enter the southern border illegally and allowing certain nationals from those countries to enter the United States legally if a US-based person applied to sponsor them.
The incident outside the El Paso refuge also comes amid an intensified effort by the Border Patrol to apprehend migrants on the streets of the Texas border city who were evading apprehension. Hundreds of migrants have been sleeping on city streets because of empty shelters and because El Paso officials have barred migrants who evaded Border Patrol apprehension from federally funded housing, including a convention center that now houses migrants.
Many of those migrants are Venezuelans who said they avoided detection, rather than surrender to border officials, after entering the United States illegally because they feared being deported back to Mexico.
Customs and Border Protection confirmed it had increased the number of Border Patrol agents patrolling El Paso “in response to migrants evading apprehension.”
“CBP, which is responsible for securing the U.S. border between ports of entry, uses a layered approach that includes patrolling the border itself, nearby areas and neighborhoods, and conducting checkpoints — both stationary and temporary,” the agency said in a statement.
But the incident being investigated could run afoul of Biden administration policy that generally bars immigration arrests “at or near a location that would limit people’s access to essential services or engagement in essential activities.”
An October 2021 memo by Mayorkas instructed CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to refrain from apprehending migrants in or near these so-called “protected areas,” which include shelters.
“We can carry out our enforcement mission without denying or limiting individuals’ access to necessary medical care, children’s access to their schools, the displaced’s access to food and shelter, people of faith access to their places of worship, and more,” Mayorkas wrote in the memo from 2021.