On Monday, Sept. 20, PBS News aired action videos of the current humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border. The graphic images showed U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback, herding Haitian asylum seekers. Presumably as a means of crowd control, they bumped them with their horses and appeared to whip them with the straps of their reigns. 

I wept. I was stunned and traumatized. I had a flashback of my experience as a World War II war refugee from the Russian front. At age 11, in August of 1944, my mother and I waited in a long line of horse-drawn wagons to be allowed to enter war-ravaged Germany. 

Unlike the Haitian migrants, my mother and I had no illusions of going to a “promised land” like America. But the Haitian migrants and I share a commonality. I too have known desperation.

We did not encounter Germans on horseback guarding the border crossing into Germany. Only a few soldiers on foot manned the border checkpoint. They were formal but civil. Their demeanor conveyed empathy with our plight. 

It breaks my heart to see America’s Border Patrol agents dehumanize helpless, desperate migrants and equate them with cattle. Disdain and abuse of migrants by Border Patrol agents is neither a unique nor a new occurrence. Over many decades, it has been revealed and described in numerous articles and books, and documented as a prevailing practice. 

Today, images of the “rough riders” compel me to ask: Where is the outrage? Don’t Black Haitian lives matter? Why is there no call to defund or to reform the Border Patrol agency? 

Refugees International, an independent advocacy organization noted that the mass deportations of the Haitians by the Biden administration is a violation of international law. Not only is it inconsistent with Joe Biden’s call for a rebirth of morality, it is also a violation of international law which stipulates safeguarding and preserving human well-being and human dignity. 

On her trip to Central America, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered the Biden administration’s message: “Don’t come. The border is closed. If you come, you’ll be sent back.” Now the desperate Haitians are shipped back to where they came from. 

But they have nothing to go back to. Their president was assassinated, their government is in disarray, their economy and their dwellings were destroyed by hurricanes and an earthquake. It’s inhumane to send them back to unsheltered homelessness and hunger.

Again Lady Liberty’s implied acceptance of the huddled masses of the poor stands as hypocrisy. America’s incapacity to meet the challenges of the periodic recurrences of humanitarian crises on its southern border is a revelation of its inability to answer the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:1-13). 

The search for the answer mandates deep soul searching of our Nation, not just a mere few changes in policies and procedures of some agencies. 

Two days later, on Thursday, Sept. 23, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the use of horses in Del Rio, Texas. President Biden promised: “The offenders will pay!” 


Fred Natkevi is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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