Over the Thanksgiving weekend, tensions flared as a large group of migrants traveling in the Central American caravan reached the northern Mexican border town of Tijuana. Hundreds were stuck in a chaotic scene, and an outburst escalated when U.S. law enforcement began firing canisters of tear gas at the group assembled in Mexico. Online, videos of migrants apparently being tear gassed at the border have been drawing attention and sparking outrage. Elite Daily reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the border patrol unit, as well as the White House for comment on the decision to use tear gas but did not receive a response at time of publication.
In videos and photos on social media, smoke appears to be billowing around throngs of migrants, some of whom fled the scene screaming. One photo of a mother leading her two small children to safety away from the gas went viral.
The apparent cause of the reported tear gassing was "violent" activity by some on the Mexican side of the border. Speaking on CNN New Day on Monday, Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) described a scene where a group of migrants were throwing rocks. This was in line with another statement by U.S. officials saying some migrants were apprehended for throwing "projectiles" at CBP officers and attempting to cross the border illegally, per the Washington Post. A total of 42 people, Scott added, were arrested on the U.S. side.
Refugees are legally allowed to pursue asylum by both national and international law even if they enter the United States illegally. But Scott said he didn't think the majority of those in the caravan had legitimate grounds for claiming asylum. "The vast majority... are economic migrants... they do not meet the qualifications to claim asylum," he told CNN Monday, adding they could still try and apply for it. "If they were truly asylum seekers, they would have just walked up with their hands up and surrendered, and that did not take place."
However, it's not clear whether migrants would necessarily know to approach a customs official upon arrival, as Scott suggests. In fact, immigration advocates and judges alike have held that refugees and migrants seeking asylum may do so in unconventional ways, as they are often fleeing violence and danger and cannot follow protocol. "[Both national and international law] make it very clear that you do not punish an asylum seeker for the manner of his or her entry," Judge Dana Leigh Marks told Beltway Breakfast in June. "There is an international understanding that people fleeing for their lives can't follow all of the normal processes that may take months or years to work out — they have to get to safety immediately."
The chaotic scene at the border and application backlog doesn't make things any easier. For the last several months, reports from the U.S-Mexico border have shown that wait times to meet with a customs officer have increased to multiple weeks — as much as two months, per Vox's Dara Lind — and the Los Angeles Times reported that some asylum seekers were being turned away altogether. Elite Daily reached out to DHS for comment at the time of these reports in June, but did not receive a response.
Regardless of the border policies, people around the country expressed outrage over the U.S.' response to the rioting at the border; a Washington Post article described how children who were "barefoot" and "in diapers" were among those tear-gassed.
Political leaders, celebrities, experts, advocates, and concerned citizens voiced their disapproval online. Rev. William Barber, speaking on Democracy Now!, called on religious leaders to take a stand against the administration's approach to dealing with the caravan. "Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime," tweeted New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
President Donald Trump, for his part, made a proclamation on Nov. 9 to try to curb the flow of migrants into the United States. On Nov. 19, a federal court temporarily blocked the administration's attempt to restrict asylum applications specifically to exclude the migrants arriving from the Mexican border. Neither the DHS or the White House responded to Elite Daily's requests for comment on the subject.
Trump, who has repeatedly voiced his his negative opinion of the migrant caravan (and immigrants generally) and leaned heavily on the group's supposed looming threat in rallying his base to vote ahead of the midterms, tweeted about it again over the weekend and into Monday. "Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries," he wrote Monday on Twitter. "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!" The White House did not respond to Elite Daily's questions regarding Trump's tweets about the migrant caravan on Monday.
But it's clear that not everyone is on board with Trump and his administration's approach to dealing with the group of migrants. It's not clear what opposition, if any, the administration will be met with, but there are inklings that some resistance may be coming. "If this is not your America stay loud," wrote California Rep. Eric Swalwell on Twitter. "We are putting out this fire."