EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Some photographs of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback facing off Haitian migrants near the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, are causing outrage. Even the White House is calling them “horrific.”
Many who’ve seen the images on social media say they appear to show the agents in cowboy hats whipping migrants of color. But the photographer who took the now-viral stills last Sunday says that’s not the case.
“Some of the Haitian men started running, trying to go around the horses, and that’s when the whole thing happened,” said Paul Ratje, a Las Cruces, New Mexico-based photographer who took the images.
U.S. authorities restrict media access in areas where they conduct enforcement actions. Ratje, however, was standing on the Mexican side and had an unobstructed view of the events.
“I never (saw) them whip anyone. […] (The agent) was swinging (the reins) that to some it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the pictures,” Ratje told KTSM.
Nonetheless, the show of force on the banks of the Rio Grande that included agents swinging the reins a few feet from the migrants and spurring their horses toward them is prompting protests. Advocacy groups say the thousands of Haitians who crossed or are trying to cross the border should be treated as refugees, not criminals.
In El Paso, activists are organizing an 11:15 a.m. Thursday “March of Dignity” demanding accountability from U.S. immigration authorities. The demonstrators plan to walk from Downtown San Jacinto Plaza to the Paso del Norte International Bridge and then hold a press conference at the corner of Aoy and Stanton streets.
“The abuse we are witnessing against Haitian asylum-seekers in Del Rio is abhorrent,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “We demand that President Biden and Secretary (of Homeland Security) Mayorkas conduct an investigation into the events against Haitian immigrants and hold Border Patrol and all involved parties accountable.”
March organizers include Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA), Border Agricultural Workers Center and Proyecto Mujeres Fronterizas. Some El Paso City Council members and El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz are scheduled to participate.
“We call on Congress to ensure these horrors at our border never happen again by enacting legislation on Border Patrol accountability to stop abuses and protect the rights of all migrants, regardless of race or country of origin,” Garcia said.
Other groups are going further.
The Defund Hate coalition is calling on President Biden to defund U.S. Customs and Border Protection – the Border Patrol’s parent agency – and its sister agency ICE.
“For years, Black and brown migrants have spoken out against the cruelties and physical abuse at the hands of ICE and CBP. The disturbing images that surfaced yesterday of Border Patrol agents on horseback brutalizing […] black migrants near Del Rio are a reminder that anti-Black, white supremacist violence is at the core of ICE and CBP’s mission,” the group said in a statement.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is also calling for accountability.
“The scenes of CBP officers on horses grabbing and corralling fleeing refugees are shameful and not the images of a country that historically has welcomed the world’s huddled masses. LULAC places the handling of this situation at the feet of the Biden Administration, and we must do better,” said LULAC National President Domingo Garcia.