The migrant caravan continues to frustrate the Trump administration. As a splinter group reached one border crossing last week they clashed with American and Mexican authorities. The images of the conflict have become a public relations nightmare and are fueling the idea that President Trump is taking unprecedented action against the migrants.
"I felt scared and I felt I was going to die with them," migrant mother seen fleeing tear gas with children at the U.S.-Mexico border tells @ABC News. https://t.co/qWTZx6Nv1Y pic.twitter.com/NzbCwEN28C
— ABC News (@ABC) November 28, 2018
One image in particular shows a mother and two children running from a tear gas canister. The image now has taken center-stage in the immigration debate and become the new go-to for those opposing Trump’s stance on the Central American migrants.
Never forget this. There is no justification for shooting tear gas at children. None. This is ugly, cruel & cowardly behavior. We will not stand for this. https://t.co/x6JkS7VNmQ
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 27, 2018
Trump’s critics are particularly upset by the use of teargas on women and children.They are relying on this image and its emotional appeal to demonize Trump.
Firing tear gas into crowds of women and children is cruel. Let’s be clear: seeking asylum is not a crime. The Trump Administration needs to stop using fear to paint immigrant families as criminals. It’s wrong and it goes against our core values. https://t.co/Kv0lkjFKPP
— Rep. Jacky Rosen (@RepJackyRosen) November 26, 2018
Yet the practice is hardly new, and was widely used in border clashes during President Obama’s eight years in office.
Homeland Security data indicates that teargas was used almost 80 times while Obama was in office.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents used 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile126 times since 2010.
Mothers and their children walked hundreds of miles and fled unspeakable horrors in the hope they would find asylum here in America. Instead of being met with compassion, they were tear gassed.
This is wrong. It's immoral. We should be better than this. https://t.co/g6DrxhIlUM
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 26, 2018
“The chemical was used at the border 26 times in 2012, 27 times in 2013, 15 times in 2014 and eight times in 2015,” Daily Mail notes.
There is one notable difference between the Obama administration’s tenure and that of President Trump: media coverage. While many of the border clashes were covered by media outlets, there are few photographs or videos of the clashes.
You're either on Team Tear Gassing Babies, or you're a Democrat. Period.https://t.co/f6zoEWhzjn
— Capt. Fiction (@CaptFiction) November 27, 2018
The image above has put Trump on the defensive. “They were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas,” Trump explained. “Here’s the bottom line: Nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.”
Many people on both sides of the argument have noted that the rush to the border south of San Diego was more symbolic than practical. The crossing was well guarded, and there was little chance that the migrants could successfully cross into the US.
President Trump implied that the clash was designed to make the US authorities look bad.
“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?” the president asked.
Regardless of the intention of the migrants, the image has provoked outrage, and that outrage is fueling those who oppose Trump’s agenda.
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.
That’s not my America. We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom.
And we will not stand for this. https://t.co/1APpeHIq6v
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) November 26, 2018
“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. We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan sees the encounter differently. McAleenan estimates the number of migrants rushing vehicle lanes at the San Ysidro border crossing to be around 1,000.
Some of those were throwing rocks at border patrol agents.
“The agents on scene, in their professional judgment, made the decision to address those assaults using less lethal devices,” McAleenan told reporters.
Will the new numbers from previous administrations provide some common ground for the discussion of the Border Patrol’s tactics for crowd control? In this political climate, that is not likely.