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The replica challenge coin and photograph. Photos: eBay and Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images.
The replica challenge coin and photograph. Photos: eBay and Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images.

U.S. Haitian migrant treatment hits new low, as “challenge coin” immortalizing abuse surfaces

Customs and Border Patrol is said to be investigating the origins of a coin recreating the photo of a Haitian migrant being chased down by an agent on horseback

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On Sept. 21, 2021, some of the most damning sequences of videos and photos to ever hit the presses during Joe Biden’s presidency were captured in Del Rio, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

They showed white U.S. border patrol agents on horseback attempting to stop and corral Black Haitian immigrants crossing a small stretch of the Rio Grande to enter the U.S. The videos also showed those on horseback seemingly using the reins of their horse against the fleeing migrants.

Now, that dark chapter in the saga that’s become the U.S.-Mexico border and representative of the larger U.S. immigration system, has an unofficial coin to commemorate the abuse.

The image specifically immortalized in metal was one taken by Paul Ratje, an independent photojournalist based in southern New Mexico, who often captures scenes from along the U.S.-Mexico border in his work. 

The coin was first discovered on eBay by Los Angeles Times immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz on Wednesday, June 8.

In addition to having ‘U.S. Border Patrol’ and ‘United States Border Patrol’ etched in two different spots, the “challenge coin” replica also has the phrases ‘Reining it in since May 28, 1924,’ ‘Yesterday’s border is not today’s border,’ and ‘You will be returned’ appear.

It was being sold for approximately $15, and 41 were bought. The sale has since ended.

When asked about the coin depicting the abuse, Luis Miranda, a spokesman for Border Patrol told the New York Times that “the images depicted on this coin are offensive, insensitive, and run counter to the core values of C.B.P.”

Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility is also said to be investigating the matter.

Miranda also told the Miami Herald that if anyone in the agency is found to be creating and distributing the coins, they will face “appropriate action.” If it is someone outside the agency, its counsel will issue a cease and desist letter for reproducing and distributing an unauthorized challenge coin.

Ratje’s image brought back major shades of chattel slavery in the U.S. South, and also came at a time when Haitian migrants were escaping the political crisis and corruption in the aftermath of the assassination of former President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse by a group of mercenaries.

That happened in July 2021, and  a growing number of Haitians have since made the treacherous journey either by water to the shores of the U.S., or through the jungles of South and Central America to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.

Their treatment and that of other Black migrants, beyond that immortalized September day in Del Rio, Texas, continues to dog the Biden administration, as migrant advocates point to their extremely expedited and often brutal processing for deportation.

In May 2022 alone, the Biden administration expelled nearly 4,000 Haitian migrants on 36 deportation flights. The month of the fateful photo, 15,000 were expelled on 58 flights.

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