Tear-Gassed Children:  More Shameful Acts by the Trump Administration


November 28, 2018

You have probably seen the pictures.  U.S. border agents lobbed at least two dozen canisters of tear gas at a small subset of migrants trying to cross the border to San Ysidro, California.  About 5,000 people who wish to enter the United States who have come to Tijuana are in a sports stadium complex awaiting their chance to cross the border, and there are estimates that the total seeking entry in Tijuana will grow to about 10,000 soon.  Some hundreds marched towards the border barriers, Mexican federal police tried to stop them, and a few people tried to scale the fencing.  It was reported that some threw rocks or other objects at the U.S. border agents.  Maria Meza, a mother with 5 children, having fled from Honduras to try to be with her children’s father in the United States, was looking through the border fence when the gas was launched in their direction.  She grabbed her 5 year-old twin daughters and ran.  Afterwards, Ms. Meza said “It wasn’t right that they acted that way with kids.  They have kids too, and they should’ve thought about their own kids, just like they should’ve thought about ours.” You can watch her Buzzfeed interview here.

A migrant girl from Honduras, part of a caravan
from Central America, cries after running away
from tear gas thrown by U.S. border agents.
(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters, in Washington Post)




“Images of barefoot children choking on tear gas thrown by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol should shock us to our core,” said Vicki Gass, Oxfam America Senior Policy Advisor for Central America, as quoted in a Reuters news story.

President Trump has tried repeatedly to evade immigration law and humane norms.  So perhaps tear gassing children is not a surprise, but it is still a shock.

The organization Faith in Public Life is calling upon people of faith and conscience to stand in solidarity with people seeking refuge. We are proud they are a CHN member, and stand with them in their call: This cruel act calls for us to speak out and demand a different response for those seeking safety.  Click on that link to pledge to speak the truth about those seeking refuge from danger, to accompany those seeking safety or to support those who do, and to advocate for immigrant families.

This use of force is yet more proof, if we still needed it, that the Trump Administration should not get increased funds in the Department of Homeland Security budget now under negotiation in Congress.  Not for the border wall, and not for more detention beds and anti-immigrant enforcement.  The Coalition on Human Needs is joining with many groups to call on Congress to oppose these new funds.

Asylum seekers can legally enter the United States, either through official border crossings or anywhere else, as confirmed in a ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar last week. Tigar said the president’s new rules limiting migrants’ ability to seek asylum exposed adults and children to “increased risk of violence and other harms.”  And yet Trump continues to look for ways to keep the migrants out, threatening to close the border for a prolonged period or permanently, trying to get the Mexican government to hold them in Tijuana while asylum claims are processed (for months or years), and telling Mexico to send them all back to the Central American countries they’ve fled.  He has placed U.S. troops at the border and threatened lethal force.  While tear gas or pepper spray have been used before at the border (by the Obama Administration, cited in a 2013 press account, and described by Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as having occurred multiple times during the Obama years), previous use seems to have been directed against adults.  Such tactics should be opposed except in the narrowest of emergency circumstances, whatever Administration makes use of them.  This time, there were children present, to our nation’s shame.

The current situation at the border is an inhumane mess largely of the Trump Administration’s making.  Trump’s attempts to deny access to migrants have resulted in a logjam at the border – thousands of people seeking asylum are waiting in Tijuana, with no more than 40-80 processed each day.  Trump wants $5 billion for wall construction, but of course he isn’t asking for more personnel to process asylum claims.  He wants Mexico to hold all the migrants until their cases are adjudicated – that could be a very long time.  People are feeling desperate now – that is why they have hazarded such a journey with their children.  They will grow more desperate, and some will be more willing to flail out in attempts to cross the border any way they can.

The use of force against those fleeing violence and poverty will not reduce their desperation.  To do what’s right, we must invest more in economic development in Central America and other measures to provide more protection and opportunity.  That will not be easy, but now, according to a Washington Post piece by academic experts Anita Isaacs and Anne Preston, all the incentives press towards more migration.  We provide $500 million in aid to Central America (only one percent of all our foreign aid), much of which does not support economic development, while remittances sent by immigrants now working in the United States to their families in Central American countries total $19 billion a year.  Doing the hard work of building local relationships to find the kinds of investments that will create jobs in the migrants’ home countries is essential; it is not likely to produce miracles of equitable growth, but it can improve people’s lives and somewhat reduce the impetus to migrate.  Equally essential is providing refuge for asylum seekers, as the law requires.

The Trump Administration wants to do the opposite, threatening to cut the small amounts of aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, to keep out those seeking refuge with walls, tear gas and worse threats of military force, and perhaps to shut down the border, regardless of the economic consequences.

Trump may want a “Fortress America,” but it won’t work.  We will see our democracy shredding further, with inhumanity growing at our borders and police state tactics increasing in our communities.  Congress should not give President Trump the $5 billion he seeks for a border wall; nor should they increase his anti-immigrant enforcement funding.  We may not be able to get the true immigration reform needed while Mr. Trump is President, but we should stop the harm he’s inflicting.

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