The photographer who captured the controversial images of Border Patrol agents using horses to keep Haitian migrants from entering the US says the images have been “misconstrued” as showing abusive behavior.
The agents depicted in the photos have been accused of using their horses’ reins to whip the migrants to prevent them from crossing the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas. An investigation into the situation is ongoing but photographer Paul Ratije says he never saw the agents whip anyone.
“Some of the Haitian men started running, trying to go around the horses, and that’s kind of when the whole thing happened.” he told KTSM.
“I didn’t ever see them whip anybody, with the thing” he said of the reins. “He was swinging it. But I didn’t see him actually take — whip someone with it. That’s something that can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.”
The photos, which emerged on Monday, drew extreme backlash from lawmakers and the White House, which called the images “horrible and horrific.”
On Friday, President Biden took it further, saying the federal agents involved “will pay” for their actions.
“It was horrible what you see, what you saw — to see people treated like they did, with horses barely running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous, I promise you, those people will pay,” Biden said at the White House in response to a reporter’s question.
“There’s an investigation underway now and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. It’s beyond an embarrassment. It’s dangerous. It’s wrong, it sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
The Department of Homeland Security is investigating the incident and the agents involved have been placed on administrative duty and are no longer in direct contact with migrants at the border.
Some agents and former border officials said the twirling motion appeared to be a tactic to steer horses, not whip humans.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the first policy change out of the investigation on Thursday, saying horses will no longer be used by Border Patrol agents in Del Rio.
It is unclear what, if any, repercussions the Border Patrol agents involved will face at the end of the investigation. Part of the investigation process, Psaki said, will be figuring out what those could be.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said he hopes the investigation will be completed in “days” rather than weeks.
Mayorkas slammed the images again on Wednesday, saying they “correctly and necessarily were met with our nation’s horror” while testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill.
In the past week, Del Rio has been flooded by thousands of migrants, many hailing from Haiti, that are seeking asylum in the US. Some estimate that up to 15,000 were camped under the Del Rio International Bridge over the weekend.
Removals of the migrants at the campsite began on Sunday and as of Thursday, approximately 3,100 remain under the bridge, the Department of Homeland Security told The Post.
The department said over 5,800 migrants have been removed from the Del Rio camp, but did not specify how many have been released into the US. Among the removed, 1,949 have been returned to Haiti on 17 deportation flights. The flights will continue on a regular basis.
Over 3,900 migrants have been processed for expulsion from the US under the CDC’s Title 42 order related to COVID-19 or “placed into removal proceedings,” meaning they have been given a notice to appear at an immigration office within the next 60 days. It is unclear how many were processed or given the notices.