Fabiola Santiago

We’re outraged when other nations do it. But now we’re the ones using tear gas on kids

Migrants vault over fence in Tijuana after tear gas launched

Central American migrants were seen dispersing in Tijuana, Mexico, after US federal officials fired tear gas at the US-Mexico border on November 25. This video shows migrants fleeing from the border next to the Tijuana River.
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Central American migrants were seen dispersing in Tijuana, Mexico, after US federal officials fired tear gas at the US-Mexico border on November 25. This video shows migrants fleeing from the border next to the Tijuana River.

In the now iconic Reuters photograph of a mother and her children in diapers fleeing as U.S. Border Patrol agents fire tear-gas canisters into Mexican territory, the American flag rises behind the tall border wall.

What a sad sight: Old Glory, a witness to the chaos of immigrant families desperately trying to shield their children from toxic fumes. When it was all over, two dozen canisters of a gas that has been banned from use in warfare by most of the world’s countries lay on the ground.

We took immigrant kids from their parents. We locked them up in cages. And we’re tear-gassing families now, collateral damage in a war on immigration.

What a shame that we, as a nation, have descended to such displays of weakness and to tactics once reserved for despots.

This shameful act of firing tear gas at families happened in our democracy. What President Donald Trump and representatives of his administration are saying in the aftermath is just political spin on the inhumane actions by the Border Patrol at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to San Diego on Sunday.

The stark truth: The United States of America used tear gas on people seeking asylum.

On video, you can see the children crying and screaming in terror.

This is who we are now.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers fired tear gas upon migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, waiting out a drawn-out asylum process, when many of them rushed the fence between the two countries. AP

The evidence is captured in the photographs and videos of the journalists assigned to cover the so-called migrant caravan traveling from Honduras to the U.S. border in order to apply for asylum at a point of entry, as is their right under American law.

Under questioning by journalists, a Border Patrol official, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and Trump have tried to downplay the harshness of the government response.

The tear gas was safe, said Trump, who blamed the immigrants for putting their children in harm’s way. In fact, he questioned whether many of those children were even theirs. They’re only using them because it’s advantageous.

The migrants rushed the border wall, they insist. They threw “rocks and debris” at BP agents in riot gear and inside cars, though a couple of narrations later they became ominous “projectiles.”

And in typical fashion, Trump seized the moment to continue the years of unrelenting rhetoric shaped around lies, half-truths, and misinformation aimed at criminalizing immigrant families and people seeking asylum.

“Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries,” he tweeted early Monday morning. “Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”

But what the world saw was that most poignant photograph of Maria Meza and her children, taken by photojournalist Kim Kyung-Hoon. Many more pictures by different photographers show other children and families amid clouds of tear gas. They were among the 500 people who rushed through Mexican barricades to reach the border, according to media reports. It was a number the White House escalated to 1,000.

CentralAmericaMigrantCaravan (1).JPG
Migrants break past a line of police as they run toward the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, near the San Ysidro entry point into the U.S. More than 5,000 migrants are camped in and around a sports complex in Tijuana after making their way through Mexico in recent weeks via caravan. Ramon Espinosa AP

Cruel and “a new low,” Democratic lawmakers called the spectacle.

The images are reminiscent of the time the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua deployed similar military force in 2015 to block hundreds of Cubans trying to cross the country during their trek to reach the U.S. border — an act condemned by Cuban American Republicans who are now either siding with the administration or remaining silent.

Bible-quoting Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, taking out of context what happened, fired off period-less sentences on Twitter: “America should always be a nation that offers asylum to those fleeing oppression or tyranny But asylum isn’t a right, it’s generosity It’s wrong for those seeking generosity to complain it’s taking too long & indefensible for any of them to protest by throwing rocks & bottles.”

Tweeted U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, defeated in the midterms by Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an Ecuadorean immigrant: “The good men and women of @CBP have the duty to enforce our borders and the right to defend themselves. They should do so in the most humane way possible. Those seeking refuge in our country should do so using the established legal process. #caravan

This lack of empathy for the victims is wrong and heartless.

These elected officials forget that they live in a community built by equally desperate people who once sent their children on planes, alone, to an uncertain future of exile and separation, of people who took to the seas in flimsy boats, of people who also made the same “caravan” trek just recently.

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The least they could do is show some measure of compassion, if outrage is too much to ask of Republicans. But like so many in this country, they’ve bought into the anti-immigrant Trump narrative.

Using tear gas on asylum seekers, including children, is not the way to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. Sound policy that addresses the root of the refugee problem is. But again, President Trump is justifying the normalization of cruelty as immigration policy.

First, came his demonizing rhetoric, told often enough to make it true in the minds of too many. Then, came the policy proposals to curtail legal immigration and, with the stroke of his presidential pen, squeeze the undocumented immigrants living here.

Next came the barbaric ripping apart of children from their parents and caging at border processing stations to dissuade families from pursuing valid asylum claims.

When that didn’t end the exodus, thousands of soldiers trained for war were deployed to the border. They installed barbed wire where there wasn’t already a wall.

Three, four rocks were thrown — and the Border Patrol, now armed and protected with riot gear, didn’t think twice before gassing a crowd dotted with children.

This is us.

This is who we have become.