The officers used tear gas “only after there were rocks and there were kids involved,” said a Customs and Border Protection agency spokesperson about the incident early on New Year’s day.
U.S. border officers sent tear gas into Mexico early Tuesday to drive away about 150 migrants trying to cross the border into the U.S., the New York Times reports. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said that the migrants tried to climb over and crawl under the border fence near San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico — the same area where U.S. officers fired tear gas across the border late last year and where Mexico is struggling to handle thousands of migrants who have fled violence and poverty in Central America. As migrants gathered at the fence, several teenagers with heavy jackets, blankets and rubber mats tried to cross concertina wire at the barrier. Others began throwing rocks over the fence at the U.S. officers.
The officers saw members of the group try “to lift toddler-sized children up and over the concertina wire,” dangerously so, the agency said. At this point, officers used smoke, pepper spray and tear gas “upwind of the rock throwers and south of the border fence.” The officers used tear gas “only after there were rocks and there were kids involved,” said a CBP spokesman, Andrew Meehan. “Then it became an issue of safety for the officers and frankly safety of the migrants.” The agency said “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.” After the tear gas was deployed, most of the migrants fled back under the fence and away from the border, Meehan said. Rights experts have questioned whether the firing of tear gas across the border is justifiable or legal; the number of detained migrant children has soared to the highest ever recorded, and at least two children have died in U.S. custody.