News Alert: US Border Patrol Fires Tear Gas at Migrants
November 29, 2018
Over the holiday weekend, news broke of a clash between migrants and United States (US) border patrol agents. US personnel at the Tijuana border deployed tear gas against a group of migrants, including women and young children. For example, the nation saw a heartbreaking picture depicting a mother pulling her two daughters, one in diapers and one barefoot, away from danger. As the news spread like wildfire across America, politicians and leaders reacted strongly – either in defense or against such force.
There are countless migrants, with estimates ranging from five to nine thousand, awaiting entry at the San Ysidro border crossing in Tijuana. These migrants are part of a large caravan that gained worldwide media attention as it traveled from Honduras with the intention of seeking safe harbor in the US. President Donald Trump misrepresented the caravan as containing dangerous people, like criminals and terrorists, despite lack of evidence. He also likened the caravan to an “invasion.” Such actions were intended to stoke xenophobic fear across America.
New Stringent Asylum Policies at US-Mexico Border
The president also tightened asylum policies in preparation for the migrants’ arrival. Current federal law states that any person has a right to claim asylum regardless of their method of entering the US. On November 9, the president issued a proclamation announcing that any person entering the country illegally would be barred from applying for asylum. We reported about the proclamation – you can read more about it here.
A US federal judge in San Francisco later blocked Trump’s asylum restriction temporarily. Nonetheless, those in the migrant caravan arrived at an official port of entry – the border patrol station in Tijuana. Unfortunately, such official points of entry are often overwhelmed and backlogged, with wait times that are prohibitive for people without ample food, shelter, and protection. Migrants arriving at the US border are vulnerable in a multitude of ways.
Government Response to Use of Tear Gas
The use of tear gas was described as the “least amount of force” necessary to protect US agents from harm. Additionally, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kristjen Nielsen, fervently defended the actions of US border patrol.
She also stated, via Facebook, that there are more than 600 convicted criminals amongst those migrants attempting entry. Despite this shocking figure, Nielsen provided no evidence or proof to support her claims.
Conversely, Tom Perez, who is Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, stated “shooting tear gas at children is not who we are as Americans.”
With so much media attention circulating about this event, it can be hard to find the facts. In this news alert, we’ll explore what happened in Tijuana over the weekend, why it happened, and if there’s any precedent for the actions of US agents.
According to The Associated Press (AP), migrants awaiting asylum consideration began a “peaceful march to appeal for the US to speed processing of asylum claims.” At some point, a certain migrants in the group tried to breach the US-Mexico border, attempting to scale fences and cross into US territory. In addition, some even escalated peace to violence, utilizing rocks and bottles as projectiles and throwing them at US agents. While agents were wearing riot gear and unharmed, they released tear gas on the crowd.
The crowd targeted may have contained both violent protestors and those attempting to illegally cross the border, but it also contained children. The AP reports that the wind carried the tear gas hundreds of feet, affecting people who were not directly involved in the chaos. One woman attempted to run away with her 3-year-old daughter. She told the AP: “we ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more.”
In response to the event, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen stated that the “DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security or public safety reasons.”
The border station closed for 6 hours after the clash, tying up traffic at one of the busiest crossings across the entire US-Mexico border. One migrant, discussing the violent clash, told the AP, “what happened yesterday hurts all of us.”
Why did it happen?
Tensions have been high at the border as asylum seekers, many who fear for their lives in their home countries, attempt to find safety on US soil. Trump’s proclamation aimed to funnel potential incoming asylees to official border crossings, yet it appears no effort has been made to quicken case processing times.
According to the AP, roughly 5,000 migrants wait in Tijuana for their moment to cross into the US. Varying reports place migrant numbers much higher, possibly by the thousands. Despite this staggering number, the station often processes less than 100 asylum claims per day. Considering the amount of migrants arriving with the caravan, wait times for asylum processing could stretch weeks to months. For families with young children, such long wait times could be devastating.
Has this happened before?
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that civilians, including women and children, have experienced tear gas. In fact, the US has utilized tear gas as a deterrent against migrants at the Southern US border for years. Other instances of lethal force have also been documented, including the 2010 killing of a teenager who threw rocks at US agents.
USA Today reports that utilizing tear gas, while perhaps ethically questionable, is perfectly legal. Its use as a “riot control agent” has been demonstrated many times, both at the US border and within America during riots and protests. While its physical effects may be temporary, its psychological effects, including terror, take longer to recede.
Despite the apparent legality, Mexico’s foreign ministry pushed back against the US. In a statement released Monday, it called for an investigation of the Tijuana incident and its utilization of “non-lethal weapons directed towards Mexico.”
The Effects of Tear Gas
A representative for the Arms Control Association told USA Today that the symptoms of tear gas are “harsh and terrifying, including severe eye irritations and difficulty breathing.” When utilized on children, these effects are likely to cause even more fright. Continuing, while the decision to fire tear gas may have been legal, the use of an “indiscriminate, psychologically terrifying toxic chemical was excessive and certainly immoral.” 
Continuing, children are more vulnerable because of their size and cognitive development. One expert explains that not only are children’s lungs smaller, increasing the potential effects of tear gas, but they are less capable of “understanding what’s happening to them…so they develop much more anxiety and fear.”
Meet with a Skilled Immigration Lawyer
According to US and international law, asylum seekers have the right to choose where they apply for asylum. The humanitarian crisis at America’s southern border is one that Davis & Associates continues to watch for developments. We will report updates on our blog as they become available.
Immigrant families across America may feel shocked or saddened by the current state US immigration policies. If you are concerned about the immigration status or safety of your family, contact an experienced immigration lawyer. They’ll help you understand your rights, represent your interests, and calm your fears. The attorneys at Davis & Associates provide top-tier representation to immigrants across the Dallas area – schedule a free initial consultation today.
 Barajas, Joshua. (2018, November 27). U.S. officials defend using tear gas on migrants. Here’s a close look at their claims. PBS. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org
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 Sherman, Christopher. (2018, November 25). US agents fire tear gas as some migrants try to breach fence. The Associated Press. Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com
 Ortiz, Jorge L. (2018, November 27). Tear gas: “Harsh, terrifying’ and legal to use on civilians (and migrants). USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com
 Ortiz, Jorge L. (2018, November 27).
 Ortiz, Jorge L. (2018, November 27).