A migrant carrying a roll of carpet wipes his face after U.S. border agents fired tear gas at a group of migrants who had pushed past Mexican police at the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A migrant carrying a roll of carpet wipes his face after U.S. border agents fired tear gas at a group of migrants who had pushed past Mexican police at the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Trump backs use of ‘very safe’ tear gas on crowd of migrants

The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in his border city and says that he has asked the United Nations for aid to deal with the approximately 5,000 Central American migrants who have arrived in the city.

President Donald Trump is strongly defending the U.S. use of tear gas at the Mexican border to repel a crowd of migrants that included angry rock-throwers but also barefoot, crying children.

Critics denounced the border agents’ action as overkill, but Trump kept to a hard line.

“They were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas,” Trump said Monday of the previous day’s encounter. “Here’s the bottom line: Nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.”

At a roundtable in Mississippi later Monday, Trump seemed to acknowledge that children were affected, asking, “Why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?”

He said it was “a very minor form of the tear gas itself” that he assured was “very safe.”

Without offering evidence, he also claimed that some of the women are not really parents but are instead “grabbers” who steal children so they have a better chance of being granted asylum in the U.S.

The showdown at the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing has thrown into sharp relief two competing narratives about the caravan of migrants hoping to apply for asylum but stuck on the Mexican side. Trump portrays them as a threat to U.S. national security, intent on exploiting America’s asylum law, but others insist he is exaggerating to stoke fears and achieve his political goals.

The sheer size of the caravan makes it unusual.

“I think it’s so unprecedented that everyone is hanging their own fears and political agendas on the caravan,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank that studies immigration. “You can call it scary, you can call it hopeful, you can call it a sign of human misery. You can hang whatever angle you want to on it.”

Read more: Migrants streaming into Tijuana, but now face long stay

Read more: Tired and angry, migrant caravan splinters in Mexican state

Trump rails against migrant caravans as dangerous groups of mostly single men. That view featured heavily in his speeches during the midterm election campaign when several were hundreds of miles away, travelling on foot. Officials have said some 500 members are criminals but haven’t backed that up with details on why they think so. On Monday, Trump tweeted that the caravan at the border included “stone cold criminals.”

Mario Figueroa — Tijuana’s social services department director who is overseeing operations at the sports complex where most of the migrants in the caravan are staying — said as of Friday that of the 4,938 staying there, 933 were women, 889 were children and 3,105 were men, which includes fathers travelling with families along with single men.

The U.S. military said Monday that about 300 troops who had been deployed in south Texas and Arizona as part of a border security mission have been moved to California for similar work. The military’s role is limited largely to erecting barriers along the border and providing transportation and logistical support to Customs and Border Protection.

Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights groups blasted the border agents’ Sunday tactics.

“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted. “Women and children who left their lives behind — seeking peace and asylum — were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the administration’s concerns about the caravan “were borne out and on fully display” Sunday.

McAleenan said hundreds — perhaps more than 1,000 — people attempted to rush vehicle lanes at the San Ysidro crossing. Mexican authorities estimated the crowd at 500. The chaos followed what began as a peaceful march to appeal for the U.S. to speed processing of asylum claims.

After being stopped by Mexican authorities, the migrants split into groups. On the west side of the crossing, some tried to get through razor-wire fencing in a concrete levee that separates the two countries. On the east side, some pulled back a panel of fencing made of Army surplus steel landing mats to create an opening of about 4 feet, through which a group of more than 30 people crossed, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others made it over a steel fence farther east.

McAleenan said four agents were struck with rocks but were not injured because they were wearing protective gear.

Border Protection agents launched pepper spray balls in addition to tear gas in what officials said were on-the-spot decisions made by agents. U.S. troops deployed to the border on Trump’s orders were not involved in the operation.

“The agents on scene, in their professional judgment, made the decision to address those assaults using less lethal devices,” McAleenan told reporters.

The scene was reminiscent of the 1980s and early 1990s, when large groups of migrants rushed vehicle lanes at San Ysidro and overwhelmed Border Patrol agents in nearby streets and fields.

U.S. authorities made 69 arrests Sunday. Mexican authorities said 39 people were arrested in Mexico.

The scene left many migrants feeling they had lost whatever possibility they might have had for making asylum cases.

Isauro Mejia, 46, of Cortes, Honduras, looked for a cup of coffee Monday morning after spending Sunday caught up in the clash.

“The way things went yesterday … I think there is no chance,” he said.

Mexico’s Interior Ministry said in a statement it would immediately deport those people arrested on its side and would reinforce security.

Border Patrol agents have discretion on how to deploy less-than-lethal force. It must be both “objectively reasonable and necessary in order to carry out law enforcement duties” — and used when other techniques are insufficient to control disorderly or violent subjects.

Last week, Trump gave Defence Secretary Jim Mattis explicit authority to use military troops to protect Customs and Border Protection agents on the border, with lethal force if necessary. Mattis also was empowered to temporarily detain migrants in the event of violence against the border patrol. Mattis told reporters that this did not change the military’s mission in any way and that he would use the new authorities only in response to a request by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He said there had been no such request yet.

With the caravan as a backdrop, Trump has used national security powers to circumvent long-standing immigration law to deny asylum to anyone caught crossing the border illegally. However, a court has put those regulations on hold after civil liberties groups sued. On Thanksgiving Day, the president warned of “bedlam, chaos, injury and death” if the courts block his efforts to harden immigration rules.

But it’s also possible that Sunday’s clash was borne of increasing desperation caused by the hardening of the policies, said Rachel Schmidtke, program associate for migration at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Mexico Institute.

“This situation is now escalating to the point of a self-fulfilling prophesy,” she said. “The more you squeeze, the more it artificially creates something that didn’t exist, but now is starting to become a crisis.”

___

Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington; Julie Watson in San Diego; Jill Colvin in Biloxi, Miss.; and Christopher Sherman in Tijuana, Mexico, contributed to this report.

Colleen Long And Elliot Spagat, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Toronto-based director Michelle Latimer was recently scrutinized after years of claiming she was of Algonquin and Metis descent. (CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Haida activist calls for hefty fines, jail time against those who claim to be Indigenous

Filmmaker Tamara Bell proposing the Indigenous Identity Act – to dissuade ‘Indigenous identity theft’

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read