Paul Ratje has opened up about the heart-wrenching images he took of horse-mounted US immigration officers chasing down Haitian migrants that went viral this week. The AFP photographer has said he hopes his photos will make people question the treatment of migrants at the US-Mexico border.
Pictures by Paul Ratje on Monday that were published repeatedly in media across the United States and around the world showed border patrol riders appearing to swing their mounts’ long reins to threaten undocumented migrants and push them back to the Rio Grande river that marks the frontier.
According to AFP, critics said the images from Del Rio, Texas suggested both cowboys attempting to herd livestock and times in history when horse-mounted police, prison guards or slave owners used whips against Black Americans.
Mr Ratje took to Instagram on Thursday to share a note on one of his most-iconic photos from the day, saying that he “thought a lot about what to say on this picture the last few days.”
You can see the post here.
The photographer said that he and his colleagues “try to make images that can go without words”, but over the last few days, he realised the purpose of his photography should also be to make people ask questions.
“The photos we take should also make you, the viewer, ask questions. You can form your own thoughts and opinions about what you see here, and that’s totally up to you,” he wrote.
Mr Ratje then said that if there is one question he hopes viewers will ask after looking at his images, or any image of migrants at the border, it would be: “Who is this country, this United States of America?”
“Thanks everyone for your comments and attention to what is happening here on the border. Myself and my colleagues are continuing to cover this as closely as we can,” the photographer concluded.
The images sparked widespread outrage on social media, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki describing them as “horrific”.
“I have seen some of the footage. I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate, but I don’t have additional details,” she told reporters earlier this week, according to NBC News. “I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it’s acceptable or appropriate.”
The images came as US Homeland Security struggles to halt thousands of Haitians and people from other countries crossing the border hoping to stay in the United States. The Border Patrol began deporting the Haitians back to their country by air over the weekend.
But after the images of the horsemen and the migrants spread, members of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party condemned the treatment.
“I urge President Biden… to immediately put a stop to these expulsions,” said US Senate leader Chuck Schumer.
Representative Veronica Escobar, meanwhile, called them “absolutely unacceptable”.
No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country.
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) September 20, 2021
“No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country,” she wrote on Twitter.
Huge public outcry has now resulted in the Biden administration halting the use of horses in Del Rio, Texas by Border Patrol agents.
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