San Diego chief patrol agent stands by using tear gas on migrants
Homeland Security officials said Tuesday that Border Patrol agents were right to use tear gas in repelling the “violent mob” that tried to burst through the border over the weekend, and said gas will be used again if another situation arises.
Rodney Scott, the chief patrol agent for the San Diego Sector, said when people began to fire rocks and bottles at his agents, which he said was a “direct threat,” they were correct to respond with tear gas and pepper spray.
“They were under assault by a hail of rocks,” he said. “That has happened before, and if we were rocked [again], that would happen tomorrow.”
“Rocking” or being “rocked” is how agents refer to the increasingly common tactic of migrants throwing large stones at the Border Patrol, hoping to wound or frighten agents.
Photos of tear gas clouds near women and children who were among the mob of mostly men storming the border have gone viral, drawing condemnation internationally and at home, where congressional Democrats say it was a break with what America stands for.
The government of El Salvador complained Tuesday, insisting both Mexico and the U.S. should have tried to use “dialogue” with the migrants who busted through a police line on the Mexican side, then tore holes in the border fence and attempted to stream through to the U.S.
“No circumstance justifies the use of force against migrants, particularly in the case of women and children,” the Salvadoran government said in a statement.
It has asked the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees and the International Organization on Migration to step in take stock of the thousands of migrants camped out in Baja California plotting avenues to enter the U.S.
But the Salvadoran government also chided parents who put their children in harm’s way by trying to jump the border, urging the “fathers and mothers who are in that area to avoid exposing their children to scenarios that put their lives, integrity and safety at risk.”
Tyler Q. Houlton, spokesman for Homeland Security pushed back on accusations that Border Patrol agents targeted women and children with the tear gas, but said people who join a violent mob trying to break through the border are going to see “unintended consequences.”
“The easiest way to avoid it is to comply with the law, go to the port of entry, and then get in line with everybody else,” he said.
President Trump on Monday had said the tear gas used was “very safe.”
Chief Scott backed that up Tuesday, saying he was personally on the border along the two-mile stretch where the mob tried to break through. He said he inhaled a significant amount of tear gas and pepper spray himself, and while it was an irritant, it did no lasting damage.
He also said he saw mostly adult men in the mobs, and women and children were “very few.”
“The agents responded with the least amount of force we possibly could,” he said.
Indeed, using tear gas or pepper spray has been standard policy for years. Tear gas was deployed at the border on average at least once a month under President Obama, and pepper spray was used even more frequently, according to Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Times.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Obama uses were “actually for far less circumstances because they didn’t have the same numbers and the mass rush that we’re seeing in this caravan take place.”
More than 40 of the migrants who rushed the border and made it into the U.S. were apprehended Sunday. Perhaps 100 more were identified by Mexican authorities as being involved in the border assault, and they have been deported.
U.S. officials say there are still about 8,000 migrants are in Tijuana and another 2,000 in Mexicali, both border towns in Mexico, eyeing entry into the U.S.
Homeland Security officials said they’ve identified at least 600 people among the caravan who have criminal records. They declined to explain how they reached that number, calling their methods “law enforcement sensitive.”
Chief Scott said he’s heard “rumors” from among contacts with charities working with the caravan that some of the migrants are giving up hope and have realized they’re not going to make it across.