The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol) is being accused of creating a so-called “challenge coin” that mocks the group of Haitian migrants that was brutally whipped by agents on horseback last year in Texas in a scene that evoked uncomfortable images of slavery.
The largest federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now under investigation after it was not only revealed that the challenge coin exists but also that it depicts a Border Patrol agent on horseback leaning over and using a rein to whip in an attempt to apprehend fleeing migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Dozens of the challenge coins have already sold online, according to the Miami Herald, which first reported on the controversy on Tuesday afternoon.
One side of the coin bears a message that appears to be a play on words from the scene in Del Rio while paying homage to the date Border Patrol was founded: “Reining it in since May 28, 1924.” The other side reads like a warning: “Yesterday’s border is not today’s border.”
The Miami Herald said it further inspected the coin to find four words etched along its side that seemingly mock deportations: “You will be returned.”
Haitians and Haitian advocates accused Border Patrol of being behind the challenge coins mocking the migrants at the border who in September were making their way from Ciudad Acuña in Mexico to the shores of Del Rio, Texas.
“I thought that I have seen everything but this level of hypocrisy and disrespect is unprecedented, outrageous and intolerable,” Marleine Bastien told the Herald.
The coin exacerbated the fact that the humanitarian crisis has still not been resolved nearly a full year later.
“President Biden promised to get to the bottom of this, but there was not any action or repercussions,” Bastien added. “Now the Border Patrol is so emboldened that they are making a mockery of the suffering of Black refugees. They are so proud of their criminal behavior that they immortalized it with a coin. I am calling on the Biden administration to step up and investigate this affront and to hold those responsible accountable.”
A Border Patrol assistant commissioner denied the agency’s involvement but said its own Office of Professional Responsibility would investigate.
“The images depicted on this coin are offensive, insensitive, and run counter to the core values of CBP,” Miranda told the Herald. “This is not an official CBP coin.”
Challenge coins are defined by the U.S. Department of Defense as “an American military tradition for a century, meant to instill unit pride, improve esprit de corps and reward hard work and excellence. The custom began in the military but has since been adopted by all levels of law enforcement.
However, law enforcement has in the past been guilty of using challenge coins in myriad offensive ways.
Just last week, it was determined that a challenge coin with sexually suggestive imagery that seemingly mocked the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape culture was first made by a former Maryland State Police member.
CBS Baltimore reported that a “spokesperson for the Maryland State Police confirmed the sides of the coin have images of a woman’s anatomy, with one showing a woman’s rear and underwear with the text, ‘I’m Offended,’ along with the agency’s logo.”
And last year, police in Kansas City, Missouri, were outed for making a challenge coin that showed an apparent pimp on one side and “
Photos from last year’s humanitarian crisis at the border showed angry-looking Border Patrol agents, complete with whips in their hands, literally lashing out at Haitian migrants who were wading across the Rio Grande River to shore in Texas, where thousands of others had been assembling under the Del Rio International Bridge in a makeshift camp.
The Border Patrol agents were purportedly rounding up the Haitian migrants in advance of the U.S. government’s planned mass expulsion to return them to Haiti, a nation that is in the throes of multiple crises following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that killed more than 2,100 people, injured more than 10,000 people and left tens of thousands of people without homes.
While the incident was one in a series of black eyes for immigration in the U.S., it also spurred right-wing support for Border Patrol. For instance, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered to reward any Border Patrol agent who got fired for their roles in whipping Haitian migrants at the border.
Abbott, who was far from alone with that sentiment among Republicans, was responding to President Joe Biden at the time vowing the Border Patrol agents who resorted to physical violence against non-threatening migrants “will pay.”
On Tuesday, Fox News cited a “federal source” to report that the Border Patrol agents involved in last year’s incident were guilty of committing “administrative violations,” not crimes. It was not immediately clear if any of the Border Patrol agents involved faced any discipline.