AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of migrants, mostly Haitian, are under a bridge in Del Rio waiting to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Pictures showing Border Patrol agents on horseback and migrants crossing the border are circling social media, leading The White House and Department of Homeland Security to launch an investigation.
One picture shows an agent grabbing a man by the shirt with loose horse reins.
Is the photo online showing a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a man real?
The photo is real but the incident is still under investigation.
What we found
The photo has been shared by politicians, the press and the public. It shows a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a man. Some online posts claim the agent used a whip.
Thousands of Haitian migrants crossed the Texas/Mexico border in Del Rio. They asked for asylum.
Federal and state governments brought in extra law enforcement. Border Patrol used agents from the horse patrol program to help.
Border Patrol describes its horse patrol as a program to cover areas traditional units cannot go.
“The Horse Patrol Program is comprised of skilled horse riders, trainers and instructors. Horse Patrol Agents ride in challenging terrain, environmentally protected and privately owned sensitive geographic locations. The Horse Patrol are the most viable and, in some cases, the only option for the U.S. Border Patrol to enter into regions inaccessible by any other means of patrol, such as 4x4 vehicles or All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). Without the Horse Patrol, these areas would remain unpatrolled and susceptible to transnational criminal activity,” the Border Patrol website shows.
Jon Anfinsen, National Border Patrol Union vice president and Union 2366–Del Rio president, said the agents were sent to the river’s edge where migrants were crossing.
“The idea was they wanted to clear out the boat ramp because that ramp had started to become the new two-way crossing,” Anfinsen said.
Anfinsen said the agents didn’t have clear guidance about what to do.
“All of those people that are under the bridge are not in our custody. They’re free to roam around … which is unprecedented,” Anfinsen said.
The photographer, Paul Ratje, works for AFP, an international news agency based in France.
Its story about the photo shows, “Ratje said many of the Haitians were crossing the river back and forth to get food for their families and were blocked by the horses.
“‘Some of the migrants started running to try to get around the horsemen, and one of the agents grabbed the Haitian in the picture by the shirt and he ended up swinging him around while the horse trotted in a circle,’ Ratje said of one particular photograph.
“Ratje said he did not think the man had been hurt. Shortly after that, he said, ‘They kind of calmed down, and they started letting people in.’”
“We just saw this footage. It’s horrible to watch. I just have to get more information on it,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said in a press briefing on Sept. 20.
“I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate, but I don’t have additional details,” Psaki said.
That “footage” mentioned comes from Reuters, another news agency. It shows a Border Patrol agent swinging the reins by the side of his horse.
“They don't have whips. They have reins. But the reins, they have to keep them moving, both as a deterrence to keep people away from the horse, because if they get too close to the horse, they might spook it and they get stepped down or trampled, but also as a means to prevent people from grabbing onto the reins. Now, there's nobody that was trying to grab the reins, but it's a thing they constantly do because they have to maintain control of the reins and the horse. If they lose control of the horse, people get hurt, people get stepped on,” Anfinsen said.
The Department of Homeland Security posted a statement on Twitter, calling it “extremely troubling.”
DHS alerted the Office of Inspector General.
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