Yesterday, at the San Ysidro point of entry between Tijuana and the United States, a group of Central American migrants were tear gassed by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP.) Currently, Tijuana has 4700 migrants living in Tijuana’s Benito Juárez Sports Complex, and it is expected that 9,000 will eventually come in hopes of gaining passage to the United States.
On Sunday morning, they marched to the border to peacefully protest their rights to enter the country, a right which Trump has already challenged, fear-mongering about them towards the end of the midterms campaign and then threatening to shut down the border. The migrants carried no weapons on them, just hand-painted Honduran and American flags. They marched to the border chanting, “We are not criminals! We are international workers!”
Despite their harmlessness, CBP sent in re-enforcements in case violence broke out. Even though San Ysidro is one of the busiest international crossings in the world, all pedestrian and vehicular traffic was shut down. When the protestors arrived, they split around the entrance, with some attempting to enter the U.S. through the fence. According to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, migrants began throwing "projectiles" at CBP agents. They deployed the first tear gas canisters at around 12 noon, and then again a few hours later.
"DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness," Nielsen continued, "and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons. We will also seek to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who destroys federal property, endangers our front-line operators, or violates our nation's sovereignty.”
Only about 70 to 80 people were harmed, and none were killed, but the photos of their plight ripped through social media, with these two taken by Reuters receiving the most attention:
Tear gas has been illegal in warfare since the Geneva Convention of 1993, which was signed by the United States. It is technically not a gas but an aerosol that activates pain-sensing nerves with chemical agent uses 2-cholorbenzalmalononitrile (CS). The catch is that while it's illegal for use in war, it's legal if used to disperse riots or control unruly mobs. Used properly, its effects are minimal, but they can be hard to control against a large crowd and can cause traumatic injuries for those exposed to high levels of it.
Democrats and human rights advocates decried the administration's actions. Governor-elect Gavin Newsom of California tweeted, "These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas. Women and children who left their lives behind - seeking peace and asylum - were met with violence and fear." The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said:
“It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump Administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them…These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail's pace or not at all.”
Trump said nothing about the use of violence, spending his Sunday night tweeting against a 60 Minutes story about his border policy, then restating his desire to close the border this morning:
Our cruelty to them only shows how far we have sunk under Donald Trump, and how long it will take for us to repair the damage he has done once he is gone.