Anyone with a heart should be shocked by images released Tuesday of Border Patrol agents at the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge chasing terrified people on horseback, rounding them up like cattle — complete with lashings from the reins of their horses’ bridles. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who has authority over the agents, and Jen Psaki, President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman, both called the images “horrific.” The agents reportedly have been reassigned to administrative duties pending a review of their actions.
NPR photographer Paul Ratje, who took most of the photos and video that understandably are creating widespread public outrage, reported that the agents’ actions were unprovoked. The Haitian immigrants in the photos had gone into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, to buy food and other items and were returning to the bridge where hundreds more migrants, most from Haiti, were assembled. Ratje said the agents charged at the people, apparently to stop them from crossing into U.S. territory, and the migrants panicked — running not toward any specific place but away from the mounted agents.
For the past several years we — as, we’re sure, other media outlets — have received more than a few phone calls from people angrily demanding to know why we don’t refer to immigrants, with our without visas, as “illegals,” “aliens” or some other pejorative euphemism.
This is why.
Such names, aside from being unnecessary, are intended to dehumanize people, and we choose not to do that — precisely because they can lead to these kinds of atrocities.
It’s an old propaganda tool routinely used during wartime. The use of such terms and similar strategies are intended to dehumanize the enemy and make it easier for soldiers in the field to kill the people they face, and for the folks back home to support such actions. Today we recognize that people with families fought our Civil War; at the time Yanks were fighting Rebs. During the Indochina wars we Yanks fought Chinks, goons or simply VC. Internet searches produce old military training films that drive home such names as well as other dehumanizing statements, such as the idea that Vietnamese mothers don’t care for their children like Americans do, and are more willing to accept their death at our hands.
Suggesting that certain people come from “s—hole countries,” as our previous president said of the Haitians who now are gathered at our border, has the same effect. After years of hearing such incendiary talk from our own halls of governance, it’s sad but not surprising to see that some of our border agents think they can treat the masses huddled at our borders like animals rather than people.
Those who insist on such types of nomenclature often also oppose the use of terms such as immigration and refugees; they demand that we call it an invasion, as if we’re facing hostile actions that warrant a violent response.
But we’re not. The people coming to our borders, regardless of their origin, are not our enemies. They want to become our neighbors, joining and contributing to our communities. And they deserve the same basic respect, dignity and treatment that we want, and expect, for ourselves.