Coins about U.S. Border Patrol are being investigated

The photo encapsulates the intensity of the clashes between border guards and Haitian immigrants desperate to enter the United States last September.

A mounted agent leans forward and grabs a man’s shirt while a rein is dangling.

Now an image mirroring the September 19 photo taken by AFP’s Paul Ratje has appeared on a “challenge coin” typically collected by agents, law enforcement officials and aficionados.

“Whipping ass since 1924” is written on the edge of the coin.

The Times obtained photos of the coin. On the other side is “Haitian Invasion” with crossed swords and the words “US Border Patrol”, “Horse Patrol Unit” and “defense allegations for years”.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol, is investigating whether the coin and a similar one advertised online were sold by someone from the agency. It is unclear who produced the coins or how widely they were distributed.

If the coins are linked to border guards, they could become the latest example of what immigrant advocates have described as widespread offensive humor among the ranks after Facebook posts mocking dead migrants and lawmakers surfaced in 2019.

Some critics have raised the issue of racism towards black immigrants. And the head of the CBP has strongly condemned the coins.

One coin depicts a migrant being grabbed by a border guard on horseback.

An image of a coin being examined by border guards.

“These coins anger me because the hateful imagery on them has no place in a professional law enforcement agency,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement. “Those who create or share these deeply objectionable coins are a distraction from the extraordinarily difficult and often life-saving work that border guards do every day across the country.”

Immigrant advocates were similarly outraged by the coin and the apparent lack of empathy for Haitian migrants it displays.

“I think this is a testament to how deeply embedded anti-Black racism is in our country’s system,” said Guerline Jozef, director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in San Diego. “For people who may be associated with CBP to feel encouraged to engrave the likeness of an abused or mistreated individual as a symbol of what the department stands for… . We see these coins as confirmation of what happened.”

Challenge coins have long been part of law enforcement culture, including at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes CBP. They’re generally harmless, honor employees or special events, former officials said, and are sometimes swapped with members of other agencies.

A former senior DHS official, John Sandweg, said he received a coin with a buffalo on it after visiting a DHS office in upstate New York and another with a picture of a border tunnel attached to a drug task Force remembered.

But the coins depicting the Haitian immigrants crossed a line, he and another former senior DHS official said. The other coin examined featured the same image of the migrant and agent on horseback with the words “Honour will always come first”.

“It’s just outrageously inappropriate,” said Sandweg, a former senior attorney at the Department of Homeland Security and acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. “Something like that tarnishes the reputation of the department, where a few bad apples do things that are really conscience-shaking and way beyond what is appropriate and acceptable. It damages the reputation of the entire department.”

“It’s a shame that this was done,” said Gil Kerlikowske, who served as chief of US Customs and Border Protection under Obama. “That kind of grotesque humor pervades … many professions, including in law enforcement groups.”

Both Kerlikowske and Sandweg said that “challenge coins” are a big part of DHS culture and are generally meant for camaraderie and celebration.

Sandweg said he was sometimes gifted a coin when he visited local DHS offices to celebrate the place, including Buffalo’s. Other coins were issued to commemorate special occasions or to honor employees.

Head offices too, such as that of the DHS secretary or the ICE director, made their own coins to distribute to employees.

Sandweg said the design of coins is often decided at a local office and then sent to the mint makers. Government funds can be used if the coin is destined for a honorary award, he said.

“The design of the coins is almost uncontrolled,” he added. “Undoubtedly, the use of an official seal in connection with this message violated DHS policy, but there has never been much guidance or oversight as to what the coins can say.” Of course nobody was so stupid and misguided as to create a coin like this.”

CBP officials have been alerted to the Haitian invasion coin in recent weeks, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

In addition to the internal investigation, cease and desist letters will be sent to vendors producing unauthorized contested coins using a CBP brand mark.

CBP is also investigating the actions of border guards who targeted Haitian migrants, as in the incident depicted on the coins.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has promised to release the results of this investigation.

The Biden administration’s decision to begin mass deportations of Haitians in September sparked alarm among immigrant advocates and prominent Democratic politicians.

Thousands of Haitians have been expelled and continue to be expelled from the country.

It was, to many, typical of the White House’s turn to restrictive policy in a political crisis, this time prompted by media coverage of Haitians camping under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Since September, the government has relied heavily on Title 42 policy, which uses the pandemic as justification for deporting Haitians and others arriving at the border.

Border guards have long faced allegations of excessive force. Earlier this week, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling shielding agents from being sued over such allegations. Coins about U.S. Border Patrol are being investigated

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