Men on horses chasing Black asylum-seekers? 悲しいことに, America has a precedent

You’ve probably seen a photograph haunting the internet this week: a white-presenting man on horseback – uniformed, armed and sneering – is grabbing a shoeless Black man by the neck of his T-shirt. The Black man’s face bears an unmistakable look of horror. He struggles to remain upright while clinging dearly to some bags of food in his hands. Between the men, a long rein from the horse’s bridle arches menacingly in the air like a whip. The photograph was taken just a few days ago in Texas, but the tableau looks like something out of antebellum America.

The image is profoundly upsetting, not just for what it portrays but for the history it evokes. What’s happening at the border right now puts two of our founding national myths – that we’re a land of liberty and a nation of immigrants – under scrutiny. To put it plainly, we don’t fare well under inspection.

最初, the current situation. This now iconic photo by photojournalist Paul Ratje was taken at a makeshift camp that has sprung up at the US-Mexico border at Del Rio, テキサス. Over the past week or two, thousands of people, mostly Haitian, have crossed from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande to the US seeking asylum. It’s important to note that they didn’t come illegally; it is perfectly legal to arrive at a border point of entry and request asylum. But conditions in the camp, による reports, have become fetid and nearly unlivable, forcing asylum seekers to trek back and forth across the river to buy food and supplies from the Mexican side.

Then the men on horses showed up.

ビデオ broadcast by Al Jazeera, mounted border patrol agents can clearly be seen threatening, insulting and even lashing at the asylum seekers with their horses’ reins, growling at them to stay in Mexico. The images, which sparked justifiable outrage, quickly spread – as did rightwing defenses of the agents. フォックス・ニュース, 例えば, was quick to point out that border patrol agents are not issued whips with their gear. But you don’t have to believe in alchemy to see that when a horse’s rein is used as whip, it becomes a whip.

Chains, whips, horses, bloodhounds, branding irons: these were some of the tools used during New World slavery to preserve white hegemony. Most Americans know this, and I hold on to the hope that no one wants to return to such brutality. Every part of that miserable system was degrading. It was degrading to the enslaved, most obviously, and even, I would argue, to slaveholders, who surely lost more of their humanity each day that that monstrous system survived.

実際には, New World slavery wasn’t just degrading. It was collective lunacy, often involving animals. Slaveholders and slave catchers – yes, that was a real profession – trained dogs to attack Black people, and then deliberately interpreted the attacks as proof that even dogs recognized Black inferiority.

And those slave catchers? After Mexico formally abolished slavery in 1829, American slave catchers would routinely cross into Mexico – without authorization, it must be said – in search of runaway slaves from the US. に 1858, the Texas legislature even passed a law offering anyone returning an enslaved person “who may have escaped beyond the limits of the slave territory of the United States” a third of “the value of such slave”, with the government treasury paying the money. A noticeable uptick of kidnappings of people of African descent in Mexico followed. Needless to say, Mexico was not pleased.

So history easily illustrates the US’s border hypocrisy. Yet the larger point is that every national border has always been a place that offers those who pass through one of two options: sanctuary or terror. The images emerging from Del Rio, explicitly recalling the collective shame of our past, are clearly pointing in the wrong direction. This might explain why the White House, which has executive authority over the border patrol, rushed to condemn the pictures.

Asked about the footage, the White House press secretary, ジェン・サキ, 答えた, “I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.” Vice-President Kamala Harris 前記, “Human beings should never be treated that way.” The Department of Homeland Security has 約束した an investigation with “appropriate disciplinary actions”.

But is this just image control? At the same time that it condemns the actions of its own law enforcement agency, the Biden administration has refused media access to the camp at Del Rio, invoked a Trump-era order (the rarely used public health law known as Title 42) to expel asylum seekers without review, and forcibly deported hundreds of Haitians in Texas – many of whom left the country more than a decade ago, after its 2010 earthquake – back to a country that is not only reeling from a massive earthquake last August but also from a political earthquake, the assassination of its president, last July.

Without review, it’s impossible to know who is facing real threats of persecution when returned to Haiti. The United Nations human rights spokesperson, Marta Hurtado, 前記 that the UN “is seriously concerned by the fact that it appears there have not been any individual assessments of the cases”. Why does the Biden administration not share her concern?

One has to wonder if the same policies expelling Haitians from the US today would be in effect if those arriving at the border were Europeans or even Cubans. If history is any guide – for decades, the US privileged Cubans over Haitians and other Caribbean peoples in immigration matters – the answer is no.

It’s one thing for the バイデン政権 to condemn abuses conducted by its own government that recall the worst parts of our national history. But it’s quite another to do so while maintaining the policies that enable those abuses. That’s not just cynical. It’s despicable.

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