At the height of his pre-election push to make Americans fear a caravan of Central American migrants making their way through Mexico, President Trump held a press conference during which he suggested it may be necessary to use lethal force against asylum-seekers once they reach the U.S. border. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” he said. “I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police, I say consider it a rifle.” Trump backtracked a day later, telling reporters that the military “won’t have to fire” and that he “didn’t say shoot,” but the message was still clear: deter the caravan, which (still) consists mostly of destitute families fleeing oppression, by any means necessary.
On Sunday, a group of migrants that had been camped at a sports complex in Tijuana came upon the California border. Hundreds marched in peaceful protest, while a smaller group attempted to breach the fencing separating the United States from Mexico. U.S. border agents responded with tear gas. Mothers were screaming as they shuttled their coughing children, some of them so young they were in diapers, away from the clouds of gas. “We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more,” Ana Zuniga, a 23-year-old from Honduras, told the Associated Press. Zuniga was carrying her three-year-old daughter, Valery.
American helicopters were dispatched across the border, and the entire San Ysidro point of entry, through which 100,000 people move daily, was closed.
Us military helicopters all over Mexican side of border now. Normal protocol bars this. pic.twitter.com/q5mfnmvX1z
— emma murphy (@emmamurphyitv) November 25, 2018
The majority of the migrants affected by the tear gas on Sunday were not among those throwing rocks as they tried to cross into the United States. Most were at the border to protest peacefully, as the San Ysidro point of entry was reportedly processing fewer than 100 asylum claims a day. Migrants claimed that 80 asylum seekers were let in on Friday, and only 40 on Saturday and Sunday, according to the Post.
At the same early-November press conference in which he suggested the military may need to use lethal force to deter migrants, Trump announced a plan to deny those crossing the border illegally their right to asylum. Instead, Trump said, anyone seeking asylum would have to do so only through designated points of entry. The plan was temporarily struck down last week by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, who ruled that denying the asylum claims of migrants who crossed the border illegally would “irreconcilably” conflict with federal immigration law. Trump responded by bashing Tigar as an “Obama judge,” prompting criticism from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” the conservative justice said in a statement, adding that “the independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” The Supreme Court is now likely to decide whether to uphold or overturn Tigar’s ruling.
A migrant family, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, runs away from tear gas in front of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana, Mexico.
(📷: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters) pic.twitter.com/pz7hkxsN9g
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 25, 2018
On Monday, the ACLU released a statement condemning the use of tear gas on migrants. “Under no circumstances should CBP be using tear gas on children,” it read. “This show of violence is outrageous and inhumane. The migrants at our southern border are human beings, including mothers and small children, who are exercising their legal, human right to seek asylum.”
The Trump administration wasn’t so sympathetic. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen cited public safety in defending the response, saying in a statement that “DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons.” The president blamed the problem on Mexico and the Democrats. “Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border, or if originating countries would not let them form (it is a way they get certain people out of their country and dump in U.S. No longer),” Trump tweeted Sunday evening. “Dems created this problem. No crossings!”
On Monday morning, he threatened to close the border “permanently” to keep all of the “stone cold criminals” out of “the U.S.A.”
Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2018
Not to be outdone, Fox & Friends brought on Ronald Colburn, an executive board member of the Border Patrol Foundation. Colburn, who was previously a deputy in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, downplayed the severity of the tear gas by arguing that the agent used is on par with sour cream. “It’s natural,” he said. “You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it.”
On Fox & Friends, Border Patrol Foundation president defends pepper spraying latinx migrants because “it’s natural. You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it.” pic.twitter.com/QLdQXqqNno
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) November 26, 2018
If only someone could have explained to migrant mothers that the clouds of gas their children were choking on could actually have been used as a condiment.
In May, Israeli military forces shot and killed 58 Palestinians and wounded over 1,200 as nearly 35,000 protested the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem. As was the case Sunday afternoon at San Ysidro, some of the Palestinians were trying to violently breach the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, but the majority of those affected were protesting peacefully. Children were killed. The White House did not condemn the attacks, instead blaming the violence on the Gazan militant group Hamas. “Big day for Israel,” Trump tweeted the morning of the carnage, referencing the opening of the embassy. “Congratulations!” He failed to offer any substantial comment on the violence at the border.
A few months later, the president suggested publicly that he told the U.S. military to respond with similar lethal force should migrants throw rocks at the border. A few weeks after that, border agents launched tear gas canisters at migrants, forcing mothers and children to flee. It’s terrifying to think of what could happen the next time a group of migrants decides to protest at the border, which seems inevitable as the Trump administration does all it can to hamstring the laws allowing them to seek asylum. One would like to think law enforcement would refrain from killing any of these desperate people exercising their right to seek asylum. Such an assumption can no longer be made.