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EBay seller says coins depicting Haitian migrant incident at border may be sold again

The challenge coin depicts the photo of last year's incident in which a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt.
Andy Christiansen
The challenge coin depicts the photo of last year's incident in which a Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbed a Haitian migrant by the shirt.

A Utah man has found himself in the middle of a controversy this week over a set of challenge coins he sold on eBay featuring a shocking image.

The coins depict the now-infamous, real-life image of a Border Patrol agent chasing down Haitian migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border last September.

Unless he hears otherwise from authorities, the seller, Andy Christiansen, told NPR that he still has about 20 coins left and intends on putting them up for sale again.

"It's strictly a business for me," he told NPR over the phone. And it's apparently a popular one at that.

Once the eBay listing of this particular coin made its rounds, Christiansen said, it was "flying off the shelf" at one point. Interest was big enough to inflate the cost of one coin to nearly $500.

Though the coins are emblazoned with "U.S. Border Patrol" and phrases like "You will be returned" and "Reining it in since May 28, 1924" (the date the Border Patrol was established), the agency's leadership maintains it is not an official Customs and Border Protection (CBP) coin.

"These coins anger me because the hateful images on them have no place in a professional law enforcement agency," CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement to NPR. "Those who make or share these deeply offensive coins detract and distract from the extraordinarily difficult and often life-saving work Border Patrol agents do every day across the country."

An agency spokesperson told NPR that the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether anyone at CBP is selling this coin.

The spokesperson added in a statement, "The CBP Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) will also send a cease-and-desist letter to any vendor who produces unauthorized challenge coins using one of CBP's trademarked brands."

CBP had indicated this week that it was investigating the origin of the coins. So following those statements, Christiansen took the eBay posting down for the time being.

But as of Friday afternoon, he told NPR, he had yet to hear anything from any investigators. He's planning on reselling the 20 or so coins he has left unless he hears from CBP or other authorities. A challenge coin is a type of small medallion that bears an organization's or group's insignia, and it's usually carried by its members. Members of the military often have these coins.

Christiansen said he is not the manufacturer of these coins; the person or business that ordered or manufactured these coins is still a mystery.

A photo of the coin sold by Andy Christiansen
/ Andy Christiansen
/
Andy Christiansen
A photo of the coin sold by Andy Christiansen

According to Christiansen, the packaging he received the coins in after purchasing them at auction was clear and had no markings or indication of the coins' origin.

He runs a business in Utah that buys at auction items that were lost or damaged during shipping by FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service. That's how he came into possession of the coins — mixed in a box with other challenge coins, Christiansen said. He said he was unaware of the meaning of what was depicted on the coins.

Christiansen said he's still mystified by the scene the coins depict.

"It's not that I'm trying to be indifferent. I'm uneducated on that situation. And for me to say anything would be foolish," he said. He added that he doesn't have any political opinion on it either way.

The backstory

The dramatic scene that the coin depicts took place last year when a large number of migrants were attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the time, thousands of migrants — including many Haitians — attempted to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. That's when Border Patrol agents used their horses to try to turn them back. Video of this particular clash caught an agent using his horse's long reins to block a man from entering the U.S., making many believe he was whipping the man.

And in widely seen photographs — now depicted on these particular challenge coins — an agent lunged from his saddle to grab a man by the shirt.

Following this incident, Border Patrol said it launched an investigation and changed its policies regarding the use of horses at that Texas border crossing. The White House also strongly condemned these agents' actions.

Since news of these coins made headlines, Christiansen has received comments both supportive and critical of his choice to sell them.

He read one comment he received that said, "Just wanted to say all of us here in Phoenix, Arizona, absolutely loved the CBP horseback challenge coin." The person went on to say, "We would have liked to buy one."

He has also received some messages "chastising" him for putting them up for sale.

He was unfazed by those comments and said, "Everybody's got a right to their opinion."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jaclyn Diaz