Activists, Democratic politicians and others watching the news Sunday reacted with shock at scenes of mothers fleeing with children from tear gas fired by American officers at the Mexican border.
Agents for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency fired several canisters of gas after groups of immigrants tried to squeeze through gaps or scale fences at the border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. U.S. officials completely shut down the port of entry in both directions for several hours.
Children screamed and coughed amid the gas, The Associated Press reported. The wind carried the aerosol chemicals toward people hundreds of feet away who were not attempting to enter the U.S., the wire service noted. One woman collapsed unconscious amid the chaos, and two babies sobbed with tears running down their faces from the gas, Reuters reported.
A statement from the Customs and Border Patrol agency said that officers responded with tear gas as migrants threw “projectiles,” which hit “several agents.”
Border Patrol just scared everyone really badly. I believed they fired off a shot bang at a group trying to go through a fence. Now we’ve been tear gassed or something pic.twitter.com/rLS4lQwL30
— WendyFry (@WendyFry_) November 25, 2018
The use of force was sharply criticized.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called on people “uncomfortable with spraying tear gas on children” to join the “coalition of the moral and the sane” to “get our country back.”
Anyone uncomfortable with spraying tear gas on children is welcome to join the coalition of the moral and the sane. We can argue about other stuff when we’ve got our country back.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) November 25, 2018
Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) compared the Central American immigrants to Jews fleeing Germany, and emphasized that applying for asylum “isn’t a crime.”
Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime.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
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 25, 2018
Angelica Salas, executive director of The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, called Sunday’s actions “a despicable act.”
“It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them,” Salas said in a statement. “These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail’s pace or not at all.”
Border Patrol fired off shots at a group trying to go through the fence. We ran and hid under train. They sent in CS gas. Babies are scared and crying. pic.twitter.com/FCM1DcG2o8
— WendyFry (@WendyFry_) November 25, 2018
Amnesty International complained that “families are frightened and soldiers are shooting tear gas at toddlers. We must choose to be better than this.”
The organization noted that President Donald Trump provoked the immigrants’ desperation by sending 5,800 troops to the border with authorization to use lethal force.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) echoed the accusation in an interview on CNN, accusing Trump of deliberately provoking chaos to give him free rein to crack down. She called it part of Trump’s “political ploy” to “stoke fear” about the migrants and react harshly to please his already revved-up constituency.
Families are frightened and soldiers are shooting tear gas at toddlers. We must choose to be better than this, and @realDonaldTrump expected nothing less when he deployed thousands of troops to the border with the order to shoot to kill. https://t.co/45py8jmR5Q
— Amnesty International (@amnestyusa) November 25, 2018
Others who watched the horror unfold on the news reacted with similar sentiments.
US Border Patrol is reportedly unleashing tear gas on the caravan of refugees, which includes parents & small children.This is inhumane. The administration can’t even pretend this is to protect borders or enforce the law. These are asylum seekers. Seeking asylum is not illegal.
— Women's March (@womensmarch) November 25, 2018
This is so incredibly shameful. Seeking asylum is not a crime. Shooting tear gas at asylum seekers lacks a basic level of humanity. This is your government. This is our government. Do not look away. https://t.co/AF3g2HOoxN
— Alicia Garza (@aliciagarza) November 25, 2018
A country built up by immigrants shoots #teargas at kids on the Mexican border…oh well.
— Peter Jelinek (@Peter_Jelinek) November 25, 2018
This is fucking horrifying. I honestly can’t believe this is America shooting tear gas at children. What an absolute tragedy. pic.twitter.com/myussTt5C3
— Allana (@AllanaHarkin) November 25, 2018
— SaucedbySally (@SaucedbySally) November 25, 2018
— Pip from the DMV (@Sanity4243) November 25, 2018
— Terri L. (@terril49) November 25, 2018
— John Clarke (@JohnOCAP) November 25, 2018
— Peter Smyth (@madpaduk) November 25, 2018
Seeking asylum in the USA, per our own gov't.(btw: You coward border agents are supposed to DETAIN would-be asylum seekers. Nowhere in this doc does it say asylum seekers and their babies/children will be TEARGASSED.) #Teargas #Tijuana https://t.co/2661c0CwW2
— ? ANGRY NEW YEAR ? (@SweetieBirdR) November 25, 2018
Now we have #US #troops firing #teargas across an #internationalborder at #women and #Children. This isnt just a #HumanRightsCrime its an #ActofWar on one of our closest neighbors. #Congress and the international community must #ActNow! #MigrantCaravan #HumanRightsViolations pic.twitter.com/WsM4MHFuSC
— Cory Clark (@1936power) November 25, 2018
— medit8now (@medit8now) November 25, 2018
“Give me your tired, your poor” said the self-described #CityOnTheHill to the huddled masses yearning to be free. The #homeless tempest-tost came seeking that #GoldenDoor & were met by a wall of lies & #TearGas. #AmericanMythology #AsylumSeekers have #righttoenter (photo @MSNBC) pic.twitter.com/ziutfvi0yL
— Cindy L. Abel (@CindyLAbelFilms) November 25, 2018
Trump suggested Saturday that the U.S. had worked out a deal with Mexican officials to keep the immigrants on their side of the border as the U.S. processes claims for asylum. But the incoming Mexican government said there is no such agreement.