On Sunday, at the end of a busy holiday weekend, U.S. officials shut down traffic at the San Ysidro Port of Entry between San Diego and Tijuana for more than six hours. This move came after an altercation in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials fired tear gas at hundreds of refugees from Central America who were turned away while waiting to apply for asylum in makeshift Tijuana shelters.
Around 500 people attempted to cross the border after they were denied access to the port of entry, where they could apply for refugee status and claim asylum.
Al Otro Lado, a bi-national, Tijuana-based legal advocacy group for asylum-seekers, said Sunday afternoon on Twitter that the refugees were protesting peacefully when U.S. officials fired tear gas at them.
“We’re not running because we’re criminals,” Jorge Montoya, 43, one of thousands who have been waiting to enter the U.S. in a crammed Tijuana sports complex with overflowing toilets, told NBC News. “We’re running from the crime in our country.”
Video from the scene shows U.S. officials firing tear gas at the asylum-seekers, while a Reuters photo features one family, including several young children, running away from the tear gas.
As per The Los Angeles Times, the immigrants, carrying hand-painted U.S. and Honduran flags, chanted: “We are not criminals! We are international workers!”
“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,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, CHIRLA, 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.”
It’s worth reiterating that it’s not illegal to seek asylum, and that the asylum petition process can take months to get processed, if they’re processed at all.
Unsurprisingly, President Trump went on Twitter early Monday morning to make the baseless claim that “many” of these people are “stone cold criminals.” In his tweet, Trump called for them to be sent back to their countries of origin, also threatening to permanently close the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order adding 5,000 additional border patrol agents to the border, as John Oliver broke down on a recent Last Week Tonight. Last week, Newsweek also obtained a White House memorandum revealing that Trump’s administration authorized the use of lethal force by troops at the U.S. border.
Right-wing media outlets in the U.S. such as Fox News have continued to use the incident to stoke anti-immigrant fears, and in their coverage, have also defended the use of tear gas on children.
Meanwhile, thousands have been been left waiting for any news on the status of their requests for asylum. It’s hard to imagine reasoning with anyone who fails to see the cruelty in how these human beings are being treated, and yet that’s the only hope we’ve got right now.