U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired tear gas into Mexico early Tuesday after a group of about 150 migrants tried to breach a section of border fence in Tijuana, but the details surrounding the incident are contested. CBP said Tuesday that "no agents witnessed any of the migrants at the fence line, including children, experiencing effects of the chemical agents, which were targeted at the rock throwers further away," and Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman characterized the gassed crowd as a projectile-hurling "violent mob of migrants."
An Associated Press photographer saw woman and children affected by the three or more volleys of gas fired into Mexico, and "the AP saw rocks thrown only after U.S. agents fired the tear gas," AP reports. "A Reuters witness did not see any migrants throwing rocks at U.S. agents," though "one migrant picked up a canister and threw it back into U.S. territory," Reuters said, adding that at least one "migrant had been hit by what appeared to be a gas canister." APsaid it "saw plastic pellets fired by U.S. agents."
Many of the migrants arrived in November and face a months-long wait before they can request asylum in the U.S., and some told Reuters they tried to cross into California on New Year's Eve because they though security might be relaxed. Most of the migrants who breached the fence fled back into Mexico, but 25 were arrested, CBP said. "Our personnel used the minimum force necessary to defend themselves, defend the border, and restore order," DHS' Waldman said. "The agents involved should be applauded for handling the situation with no reported injuries to the attackers."
Amnesty International was not clapping. "The Trump administration is defying international law and orchestrating a crisis by deliberately turning asylum-seekers away from ports of entry, endangering families who see no choice but to take desperate measures in their search for protection," said Amnesty's Justin Mazzola. CBP said its Office of Professional Responsibility would review the incident. Peter Weber
On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala had died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after the Border Patrol took her into custody, along with her father and 161 other migrants who turned themselves in after crossing into New Mexico from Mexico on Dec. 6. The following morning, the unidentified girl began having seizures, The Washington Post reports, and the emergency responders who arrived shortly measured her temperature at 105.7 degrees. She "reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days," CBP said, and she died at a hospital in El Paso "less than 24 hours after being transported."
"Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn't immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures," the Post reports. The initial diagnosis for cause of death was septic shock, fever, and dehydration, and an autopsy is being performed. "Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child," CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement.
Even as the number of border crossings has dropped this year, the numbers of families traveling to the U.S. from Central America has risen. So have the number of migrant deaths, said Cynthia Pompa at the ACLU Border Rights Center. "This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths." Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said he will ask the Homeland Security Department's inspector general to investigate the death, noting that a previous IG report found that as President Trump limits asylum seekers at ports of entry, migrant families are forced to make "dangerous treks across the desert in search of safety, and a better life." Peter Weber