Border Patrol officials fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants, including small children, as they tried to enter the U.S. on Sunday. As a result, U.S. officials shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry between San Diego and Tijuana for several hours.
Rodney Scott, chief patrol agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, defended the use of tear gas, saying some of the migrants threw rocks at the agents. "What we saw over and over yesterday was the group, the caravan, would push women and children towards the front and then, basically, 'rocking' our agents," he said on CNN on Monday. "We tried to target the instigators, specifically those assaulting the agents, but once that chemical is released, it does go through the air."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended border patrol's actions. "DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons," she said in a statement on Sunday.
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted that Mexico should send the migrants, "many of whom are stone cold criminals," back to their home countries in Central America. "We will close the Border permanently if need be."
Some of the migrants reportedly said that they attempted to cross over after being denied at the port of entry, where they tried to claim asylum. Seeking asylum, as thousands of people are doing after fleeing violence in their home countries, is legal despite Trump's attempts to crack down on it. According to Nicole Narea, senior immigration reporter at legal news outlet Law360, the people at the border "could have grounds to sue under [the Refugee Act of 1980] on the basis that the Trump administration has effectively denied them access to the U.S. asylum system."
Democrats and human rights defenders were outraged over the treatment of the migrants, many of whom are currently being housed in shelters in Tijuana.
"Our government fired tear gas canisters at a group of scared women and children who are already in a desperate situation," Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Refinery29. "We condemn these actions and remember the broader issue at stake. Through a series of policies and barriers, the White House has de facto made it near impossible for migrants to seek asylum, and a judge has temporarily put a stop to those efforts. The desperation felt by the thousands of families waiting at the border will only intensify if the administration continues with its illegal actions to limit the legal right to seek asylum."
Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 25, 2018
It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany.
It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda.
It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria.
And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America. https://t.co/qhv7Rr1itn