Migrant tear gas incident draws rebukes from Beto O’Rourke and Texas Democrats
WASHINGTON - Debate over border policy sharpened on Monday after U.S. authorities fired tear gas at members of a Central American migrant caravan trying to force their way across the border near Tijuana over the weekend.
The incident, which briefly shut down part of the border in California to all traffic, provided political fodder to both sides as lawmakers face a December 7 deadline to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
Trump told reporters Monday that border officials “had to use” tear gas Sunday. “They were being rushed by some very tough people,” he said. “Here’s the bottom line. No one is coming into our country unless they come in legally.”
Trump took an even more aggressive line on Twitter earlier in the day.
“Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
A number of Texas Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who fell short in his bid to unseat Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this month, sharply criticized the use of gas on migrant protesters.
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“It should tell us something about her home country that a mother is willing to travel 2,000 miles with her 4-month-old son to come here,” O’Rourke said in a statement through his campaign organization. “It should tell us something about our country that we only respond to this desperate need once she is at our border. So far, in this administration, that response has included taking kids from their parents, locking them up in cages, and now tear gassing them at the border.”
Some immigration hard-liners from Texas portrayed the border skirmish as a sign of an escalating crisis.
“Thousands of Additional Migrants Headed to U.S. Border,” wrote U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, in a tweet linking to a Breitbart news account of new migrants joining the estimated 5,000 who have arrived in Tijuana in recent days.
Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, noted on Twitter that the Mexican government has increased security since Sunday’s melee, which saw women and children choking on tear gas lobbed onto the Mexican side of the border from the U.S.
The rush on the border took place as Trump suggested in an earlier tweet Sunday that migrants at the southern border will “stay in Mexico” until their claims are individually approved in court.
“Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border, or if originating countries would not let them form (it is a way they get certain people out of their country and dump in U.S. No longer),” Trump tweeted. “Dems created this problem. No crossings!”
Authorities in the incoming Mexican administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent mixed signals about whether any deal had been reached or whether they would cooperate with Trump’s plan.
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Refugees International President Eric Schwartz urged the governments of Mexico and the United States to suspend any discussion of an agreement that would force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico pending a determination of their U.S. asylum claims.
“The Trump administration is asking the government of Mexico to facilitate and endorse abusive policies that will harm individuals fleeing persecution,” Schwartz said in a statement. “The proposed agreement flies in the face of international refugee law and policy to which the United States and Mexico have long been committed. Mexico should not be bullied into doing this.”
Meanwhile lawmakers and activists on both sides of the immigration issue expressed growing alarm over the border fracas, which began as a small group of migrants attempted to climb fences and run through car lanes to reach the U.S.
Among them was State Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, one of one two Latinas newly-elected to Congress from Texas. She retweeted a statement by Catholic Democrats saying “there is no bottom when it comes to the current occupant of the White House and his party. He will do things like use tear gas on poor, hungry, exhausted little children. It is up to us to name such a shameful practice and do what we can to stop it.”
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, condemned the actions of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and other U.S. authorities on the border, which has been militarized with federal troops in recent weeks by the Trump administration.
“The decision to gas asylum seekers—including many women and children—was cruel, unnecessary, and inconsistent with who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation,” said Castro, who also serves as first vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Some conservative groups, noting that some CBP officers had been pelted with rocks and bottles, appealed to a sense of rising danger long fostered by Trump’s call for a border wall. In an email to supporters, Judicial Watch spokesman Carter Clews cited “mounting tension… as thousands of militant, illegal alien invaders storm our border.”
The Trump administration is currently in court defending a new plan to limit asylum requests only to migrants who present themselves legally at U.S. ports of entry. The migrant protests appear to have been fueled by a sense of desperation as thousands wait in camps in Tijuana, where authorities say they can only process about 40 to 100 cases a day.
O’Rourke, who is considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate, proposed Monday that U.S. authorities set up an orderly process to handle claims more expeditiously in the United States.
“Let’s do this the right way and follow our own laws,” O’Rourke said. “Allow asylum seekers to petition for asylum at our ports of entry. They must do so peacefully and follow our laws. But we must also ensure the capacity to effectively and timely process those claims. Those who have a credible fear of returning to their home country (as determined by a U.S. judge) will be able stay until their full asylum request has been determined.”