In what human rights groups condemned as a "cruel and inhumane" act that must be independently investigated, agents with President Donald Trump's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Tuesday reportedly hit women, children, and journalists near the U.S.-Mexico border with tear gas, smoke, and pepper spray.
"Using tear gas against men, women, and children seeking protection is cruel and inhumane. There needs to be a thorough and independent investigation into the reported use of tear gas and other agents."
—Justin Mazzola, Amnesty International
According to an Associated Press photographer present at the scene, CBP agents fired "at least three volleys of gas" into Mexico at around 150 asylum-seekers who approached the border in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Contradicting CBP's claim that the tear gas was used to deter migrants who were throwing rocks over the border fence, the AP photographer said rocks were thrown "only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas."
In a statement Tuesday night, Justin Mazzola, deputy director of research at Amnesty International, said CBP's actions should be viewed as part of the Trump administration's sweeping anti-immigrant agenda.
"Using tear gas against men, women, and children seeking protection is cruel and inhumane," Mazzola declared. "There needs to be a thorough and independent investigation into the reported use of tear gas and other agents in this incident. However, this incident needs to be examined within the broader context of US policies at the border."
"The Trump administration is defying international law and orchestrating a crisis by deliberately turning asylum-seekers away from ports of entry, endangering families who see no choice but to take desperate measures in their search for protection," he continued. "These dangerous policies must end immediately. The U.S. must welcome people safely into the country while their asylum claims are reviewed."
The US welcomed 2019 by firing tear gas across an international border into a crowd including women, children, & journalists. https://t.co/H7XrCOzv4n
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) January 2, 2019
CBP's use of tear gas against asylum-seekers on Tuesday marked the second time the agency has fired the chemical into Mexico over the past several weeks alone. As Common Dreams reported, CBP agents fired tear gas across the U.S.-Mexico border in late November, forcing women and children to flee "screaming and coughing."
The Trump administration's use of chemical agents against asylum-seekers comes amid a government shutdown over the president's demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.
While Democratic leaders have thus far rejected Trump's demand for wall money, progressive advocacy groups raised alarm in a letter last week that the Democrats' plan to reopen the government would still provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—which oversees CBP—with substantial funding to carry out the president's anti-immigrant agenda.
"As much as we all desire an end to the shutdown," the groups wrote, "rewarding Trump's DHS with border barrier money is the wrong course of action, especially at a time when its personnel are tear gassing toddlers, separating and detaining families, and presiding over custodial deaths, including those of a seven-year-old girl named Jakelin and an eight-year-old boy named Felipe in Border Patrol custody just this month."