Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said Wednesday that the border agents on horseback swinging their reins as they sought to block Haitian migrants from entering an encampment was “worse than what we witnessed in slavery.”
Ms. Waters, speaking at a Wednesday press conference outside the Capitol, accused agents of “whipping” the would-be border-crossers in Del Rio, Texas, a narrative that has been increasingly disputed.
“What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years,” Ms. Waters said. “What we witnessed was worse than what we witnessed in slavery: cowboys with their reins, again, whipping Black people, Haitians, into the water, where they’re scrambling and falling down, and all they’re trying to do is escape from violence in their country.”
She also lashed out at the Biden administration, accusing officials of “following the Trump policy.”
“I’m unhappy, and I’m not just unhappy with the cowboys who were running down Haitians and using their reins to whip them. I’m [unhappy] with the administration,” she said in a clip posted by the conservative Media Research Center.
Outraged Democrats have accused the Customs and Border Patrol officers of “cracking whips” at the migrants as they sought to cross the Rio Grande, with Vice President Kamala D. Harris decrying the incident as “horrible” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling the footage “obviously horrific.”
Others have pushed back on the “whipping” narrative, saying that the “whips” were actually long reins used to control the horses.
National Border Patrol Council vice president Art Del Cueto said Tuesday that the agents “twirl the reins,” a technique used to prevent those on the ground from grabbing the reins and using them to pull down the riders and horses.
“They were not whipping anyone. They are not assigned whips,” Mr. Del Cueto told Fox News. “What they do is a training technique that has been shown to them to make sure that no one takes over their horse. It was to protect the horse, to protect the rider and to protect the individual that was trying to cause chaos and knock down that rider from that horse.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a press conference Monday in Del Rio that mounted officers use long reins to “ensure control of the horse,” but told CNN Tuesday that “we are very troubled by what we have seen,” adding that he would “let the investigation run its course.”
Photographer Paul Ratje, who took the much-discussed AFP photo showing a mounted agent grabbing a migrant by the shirt as the rein spun around him, has reportedly said that the image was “misconstrued.”
“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,” Mr. Ratje told KTSM, as reported by Border Report.
A fact-check Wednesday by News4 in Jacksonville rated the whipping claim “not true.”
“So, does how CBP agents handled this situation deserve an investigation? The answer is yes. But to the claim that horseback mounted CBP agents were seen whipping Haitian migrants trying to get into the U.S., the News4JAX Trust Index Team rates this claim as not true,” said the News4Jax anchor Tarik Minor.
Mr. Mayorkas said Tuesday that the agents shown in the photos have been placed on desk duty.
The National Border Patrol Council accused Mr. Mayorkas and Ms. Psaki of making “outlandish and irrational claims about being horrified by images that show Border Patrol agents on horseback using authorized equipment and techniques to deter and prevent a large group of people from illegally entering the United States in Del Rio, Texas.
“The shameless hypocrisy demonstrated by Psaki and Mayorkas in criticizing the agents in the field who were left to deal with this unstable situation without any sensible strategic plan by the Administration is far more horrific,” said the Tuesday statement.