• Saskia Scarce

The Abandonment of Social Duty at the Border

Adapted from an academic essay*

The facade of the American Dream creates the illusion that America is a safe space for immigrants. This allure is not indifferent to the Haitian people who choose to illegally travel across the Mexico-America border to seek refuge from “both political instability and natural disasters”(Alden). To address the illegal immigration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to clear large settlements on the Bank of Rio Grande River in Del Rio, Texas. However, on September 21st, 2021, horseback agents were photographed being aggressive and began to use reigns as whips on the Black migrants.


Image from the Los Angeles Times

The topic of immigration has been a political opportunity to perpetuate racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Whipping lacks moral reasoning and immortalizes America’s history with slaves through imagery. Additionally, the maltreatment of the people and abuse of authority demonstrate a disregard for human rights and empathy. For about 250 years, slavery was legal in the United States of America along with the objectification of Black people. This dehumanization continued with Jim Crow laws, “a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation” until it ended in 1968 (History.com Editors). Although society has progressed, unfortunately, people still believe in these racist and prejudiced ideas. The government has not made efforts to make reparations since this is a pattern that is still present today. America is politically divided, and this was amplified in the 2016 Election when former President Donald J. Trump utilized the phrase “Make America Great Again” when discussing immigration policy. The image of agents on horseback whipping Black men mirrors a master abusing their slaves on the plantation. Despite the officers doing their job by clearing the space, they did not uphold their social duty because their actions supported the xenophobic rhetoric of racists.

The effects of using a whip are not solely physical: these victims will now have physiological effects. Slavery was not unique to America alone, and although Haiti was the first to abolish slavery in 1793, the results are still prominent in the country and the people. The imagery created through their horrific actions is triggering, especially to those whose ancestors were victims of similar treatment. Whips should never be a choice of a weapon on humans. It demonstrates an absence of social awareness and ignorance towards the traumatic past of Black people.

As officers of the law, ICE agents should be the embodiment of justice. Chasing unarmed Black migrants on top of horses and utilizing reins as whips in the 21st century is the opposite of this moral ideal. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a horrible track record of the maltreatment of people who illegally crossover their border. Someone committing a crime is not an opportunity to strip people of their dignity and human rights. No one wants to be dehumanized in the manner the migrants faced. There was no need to utilize such force on a group of people seeking asylum. Being detained by border officials is terrifying enough due to the publicized horror stories of the detention centers. The use of a whip was unjust because of a blatant disregard for human life and a lack of empathy.

This was an abuse of authority that promoted racist propaganda, traumatized, and opened unhealed wounds of Black people that do not resemble self-regulation or the defence of moral principles. The global outrage at the photo of the discriminatory behaviour was not unexpected because it was an act void of morality. However, they only had the opportunity to be publicly discriminatory because of their position of power. As agents, they have a moral obligation to be unbiased and act with dignity since their actions reflect the government. In a racially polarizing country such as America, following recent coverage on injustices on minorities and as members of law enforcement, it is evident that moral reasoning was waived.


Works Cited


Alden, Edward, and Tippett, Alex. “Why Are Haitian Migrants Gathering at the U.S. Border?”, Council on Foreign Relations, October 1,2021, https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-are-haitian-migrants-gathering-us-border.


History.com Editors. “Jim Crow Laws.” History,A&E Television Networks, February 28, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws.


Fieser, James. “ Ethics”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, iep.utm.edu/ethics/#H2.


Seidler, Michael, "Pufendorf’s Moral and Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2021/entries/pufendorf-moral/>.