A photographer who took photos of mounted Border Patrol agents in a tense encounter with Haitian migrants earlier this week says he didn’t see any whipping, puncturing the outrage that the White House and immigrant-rights activists have aimed at the agents.
Paul Ratje told KTSM, an El Paso, Texas, television station, that he saw the migrants running and dodging around the horses that agents were riding, and the agents were swinging their reins but weren’t targeting the migrants.
“He was swinging it, but I didn’t see him actually whip someone with it,” the photographer told the station. “That’s something that can be misconstrued when you’re looking at it.”
His explanation tracks with what Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who has ridden horse patrol himself before, told reporters in Texas on Monday.
“Trying to take control of those horses so we do not get in a position where we injure a migrant as they’re trying to make that treacherous trek across that river is probably more important than anything and I’m pretty sure and confident that that’s exactly what was happening,” the chief said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was with Chief Ortiz at the time, agreed — but has since changed his tone, vehemently denouncing the images in an appearance before Congress on Wednesday.
He said those involved from the Border Patrol have been sidelined and are not allowed to do law enforcement duties while an investigation is ongoing.
His reversal of tone came a day after Vice President Kamala Harris called him to complain about the images.
And on Friday, President Biden also weighed in, calling the images “horrible” and vowing “those people will pay.”
“It’s beyond an embarrassment. It’s dangerous. It’s wrong,” he said. “It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.”
Thousands of Haitians have jumped the border in Del Rio, Texas, this month, establishing a beachhead camp on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.
The Biden administration has taken a rhetorically tough approach, saying it would deport them to Haiti. In reality, while some have been deported, others are being caught and released into communities, including unaccompanied juveniles and families with children.
Mr. Mayorkas deployed additional agents to the area to try to contain the camp and prevent new arrivals, leading to the horseback encounters.
In addition to the images, a video taken of an encounter shows an agent yelling an expletive at a migrant.