At the height of his pre-election push to make Americans fear a caravan of Central American migrants making their way through Mexico, President Trump held a press conference during which he suggested it may be necessary to use lethal force against asylum-seekers once they reach the U.S. border. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” he said. “I told them to consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mexican military and police, I say consider it a rifle.” Trump backtracked a day later, telling reporters that the military “won’t have to fire” and that he “didn’t say shoot,” but the message was still clear: deter the caravan, which (still) consists mostly of destitute families fleeing oppression, by any means necessary.
On Sunday, a group of migrants that had been camped at a sports complex in Tijuana came upon the California border. Hundreds marched in peaceful protest, while a smaller group attempted to breach the fencing separating the United States from Mexico. U.S. border agents responded with tear gas. Mothers were screaming as they shuttled their coughing children, some of them so young they were in diapers, away from the clouds of gas. “We ran, but when you run the gas asphyxiates you more,” Ana Zuniga, a 23-year-old from Honduras, told the Associated Press. Zuniga was carrying her three-year-old daughter, Valery.
American helicopters were dispatched across the border, and the entire San Ysidro point of entry, through which 100,000 people move daily, was closed.
The majority of the migrants affected by the tear gas on Sunday were not among those throwing rocks as they tried to cross into the United States. Most were at the border to protest peacefully, as the San Ysidro point of entry was reportedly processing fewer than 100 asylum claims a day. Migrants claimed that 80 asylum seekers were let in on Friday, and only 40 on Saturday and Sunday, according to the Post.
At the same early-November press conference in which he suggested the military may need to use lethal force to deter migrants, Trump announced a plan to deny those crossing the border illegally their right to asylum. Instead, Trump said, anyone seeking asylum would have to do so only through designated points of entry. The plan was temporarily struck down last week by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, who ruled that denying the asylum claims of migrants who crossed the border illegally would “irreconcilably” conflict with federal immigration law. Trump responded by bashing Tigar as an “Obama judge,” prompting criticism from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” the conservative justice said in a statement, adding that “the independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” The Supreme Court is now likely to decide whether to uphold or overturn Tigar’s ruling.
On Monday, the ACLU released a statement condemning the use of tear gas on migrants. “Under no circumstances should CBP be using tear gas on children,” it read. “This show of violence is outrageous and inhumane. The migrants at our southern border are human beings, including mothers and small children, who are exercising their legal, human right to seek asylum.”