Trump's use of tear gas: a step too far?

Sesha Subramanian assesses the use of tear gas on the US-Mexico border against child migrants under Trump's new administration

Sesha Subramanian
10th December 2018
Credit: wikipedia commons

The Donald Trump administration ran into yet more hot water as US Border forces used tear gas on a large crowd – which included children – to prevent them from entering the United States illegally. The crowd- dubbed the Migrant Caravan – consisted mainly of people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvadorfleeing their home countries due to fear of persecution, poverty and violence. Many of these people say that their goal is to settle in the United States despite warnings from the US authorities that they would be prosecuted for staying within the country illegally.

Following the incident and the obvious closing of the border, tensions have reached new heights with many condemning the unjustified use of tear gas. Mexico, for example, has asked for an investigation into the use of tear gas. The caravan meanwhile has camped in the northern city of Tijuana and the condition there has descended into a veritable humanitarian crisis. Authorities in Tijuana have started to relocate more than 6,000 Central Americans to a new shelter, after the rundown sports centre where they have been camped out for more than two weeks descended into squalor.

It's remarkable Trump showed no remorse

The use of tear gas on these people is understandable given the anti-migrant rhetoric that has become a staple of this Trump administration but is it justified? The answer is no. First of all, the problem begins with Trump’s labelling of the caravan as an “invasion”. These are people who are escaping areas of rampant crime in search of a better life, not automatic weapontotting gangsters looking to sell cocaine. Ahead of the mid-term elections, he tweeted that "many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan heading to our southern border" and warning that "our military is waiting for you". It sounds more like a threat that you would hear in Narcos than a presidential quote, doesn’t it?

It’s even more remarkable that Trump showed no remorse or apology for his actions. In fact he has ramped up his anti-migrant narrative in blatant disregard for human rights. These are people who are basically stateless and need help even for basic services. And while allowing them to settle into major cities might be a controversial decision, no American would object to allowing them to enter the country and then giving them somewhere to stay till they can be integrated into society through legal means. Entering the United States through legal means costs money – something that these people do not have. Whatever little they did earn back home, it was taken away from them by gangs and the general agents of anarchy in those areas. Understanding the reasons behind them risking so much to enter the United States should dictate policy to some degree but if the Trump administration had taken into consideration that there were actual displaced human beings involved, they might never have fired tear gas in the first place.

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