PHOTOS: Did Border Patrol Agents on Horses Use Whips on Migrants?

border patrol whips

Getty Border Patrol agents did not use whips, the photographer says

The photos of U.S. border patrol agents on horseback in Texas have caused controversy – and condemnation from President Joe Biden – but did the border patrol agents really use whips on Haitian migrants?

The photographer who took the viral pictures, which you can see throughout this article, told KTSM-TV that he didn’t see the agents whipping anyone.

CNBC reported that, according to Raul Ortiz, head of the Border Patrol, the agents in question were “wielding reins” in order “to control their horses,” not whips.

However, President Joe Biden was strongly critical of the agents, and the Border Patrol suspended the use of horses in Del Rio, Texas.

“It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay. They will be investigated. There will be consequences,” Biden said in a news conference on September 24, 2021. He was referring to the agents featured in the photographs.

GettyA United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.

Biden said, “To see people treated like they did? Horses running them over? People being strapped? It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay.”


Biden blasts Border Patrol on migrant treatmentPresident Joe Biden harshly criticized Border Patrol agents, mounted on horseback, who confronted Haitian migrants, calling their actions "horrible."2021-09-24T15:15:17Z

He did not use the word whipped, however.

That led the National Fraternal Order of Police to join the Biden critics, tweeting, “For all you Twitter warriors out there: these are NOT whips. And no, Border Patrol agents are NOT ‘whipping’ people. They are REINS… Stay with us here, like a steering wheel is used to drive a car, the reins are used to ‘drive’ the horse.”

Some Democratic politicians have strongly criticized the Border Patrol. “These are human rights abuses, plain and simple,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). “Cruel, inhumane, and a violation of domestic and international law. This needs a course correction and the issuance of a clear directive on how to humanely process asylums seekers at our border.” She shared a tweet that claims border patrol agents were whipping immigrants at the border.

Here’s what you need to know:


Paul Ratje, Who Took the Photos, Says He Didn’t See Anyone Being Whipped

border patrol horses

GettyA United States Border Patrol agents on horseback look on as Haitian migrants sit on the river bank near an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio.

The photographer who took the pictures, Paul Ratje, denied to KTSM-TV that any border agents whipped anyone in the photos. “I’ve never seen them whip anyone. He was swinging it, but it can be misconstrued when you’re looking at the picture.” He said some immigrants “started running, trying to go around the horses,” he told the television station.

GettyUnited States Border Patrol agents on horseback.

You can see more of Ratje’s work here, on his website. “Originally from Mesilla, New Mexico, Paul Ratje studied at New Mexico State University and earned a bachelor’s in photojournalism and foreign languages. His passion for photography and love for languages have pushed him abroad where he can pursue both,” his bio says.

GettyThe United States said Saturday it would ramp up deportation flights for thousands of migrants who flooded into the Texas border city of Del Rio.

“He lived in Taiwan for 5 years where great photos, inspiration, as well as an outlet to practice his Mandarin were right on his doorstep. Since then, he has taken photos all over Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and has been published in such outlets as The South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, and many others. Currently located near El Paso, Texas, he is available for freelance work and is always looking for new opportunities to photograph.”

GettyA United States Border Patrol agent on horseback uses the reins as he tries to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment.

He published a series of photos.

GettyA United States Border Patrol agent on horseback.

“Authorized Officers/Agents may use ‘objectively reasonable’ force only when it is necessary to carry out their law enforcement duties,” the Border Patrol’s use of force policy says.

It adds, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force is based on the totality of circumstances known by the officer/agent at the time of the use of force, and weighs the actions of the officer/agent against the rights of the subject, in light of the circumstances surrounding the event. Reasonableness will be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer/agent on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.:

GettyAn United States Border Patrol agent on horseback.

USA Today reported that the horses are used to travel in areas too rough in environment for vehicles and have been used since the early 1900s.

“The critical piece of this if somebody gets close enough to control the horse’s head by grabbing the reins or the harness on the horse’s head, he now has control of the horse, and that can lead to serious injury or death to the agent or to the migrant,” said Jeff Self to AZCentral.com. “Everything I see on this is appropriate.” Self is a retired deputy patrol chief agent out of Arizona.


Political Division Erupted Over the Photos of Border Patrol Agents on Horses

GettyA United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has previously criticized Biden’s handling of the Haitian refugee crisis in Del Rio, Texas. “10,503 illegal aliens are under this bridge tonight because Joe Biden made a political decision to cancel deportation flights to Haiti,” Cruz tweeted on September 16. “The Border Patrol is overcapacity. It’s indefensible, it’s inhuman, and it was entirely caused by Biden & Harris.”

The head of the National Border Patrol Council told Fox News he believed Biden was trying to deflect from the refugee crisis by blaming the Border Patrol agents.

“They know that what is taking place under the bridge is very embarrassing to them so they are trying to deflect,” Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council, told Fox News. “That’s the administration trying to deflect off themselves for their failures which led to the catastrophe that’s taking place under the bridge.”

GettyBorder Patrol.

Judd told Fox News the agents were holding “long reins, which are used to control the horse in riverines,” and that none of the migrants was struck or injured. “What they were holding were reins, they were not whips, those reins are used to control the horses,” he said to Fox. “The agents also have to protect the migrants from the horses they can’t let them close if they try and so they will twirl the reins in their hands, but they do not hit them nor were any of those migrants hit by any object, let alone by a whip or a rein.” He told Fox there had been “recent violent episodes by migrants on both a transport bus and a deportation flight.”

GettyHaitian migrants, part of a group of over 10,000 people staying in an encampment on the US side of the border, cross the Rio Grande river to get food and water in Mexico.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn tweeted, “The White House is using a single encounter at the Texas border to scapegoat law enforcement and deflect criticism from its immigration failure.”
Biden’s spokeswoman labeled the images of the Border Patrol agents “horrific.”

GettyUnited States Border Patrol agents.

But Democratic politicians and activists raised great concern about the photos.

GettyUnited States Border Patrol agents on horseback.

“It doesn’t matter if a Democrat or Republican is President, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants,” Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention. This is a stain on our country.”

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