Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Visit the Midday Edition homepage

US Customs And Border Protection Has Used Tear Gas In 126 Incidents Since 2012

November 28, 2018 1:42 p.m.

US Customs And Border Protection Has Used Tear Gas In 126 Incidents Since 2012


Priya Sridhar, reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: US Customs And Border Protection Has Used Tear Gas In 126 Incidents Since 2012


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The rush toward the border by 100 or so migrants on Sunday was met by tear gas lobbed into Mexico by the U.S. Border Patrol. That's generated a significant amount of outrage from people disturbed by images of women and children running from the tear gas clouds. But apparently the use of tear gas is not that unusual at the border. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol says it's deployed tear gas rubber bullets and pepper balls on crowds across the border. More than 100 times in recent years. Joining me as capable as reporter Pria Schriefer and prio welcome to the show.

Thank you. Now what does CBP say about how many times tear gas and other methods have been deployed on crowds at the border.

So Marine CBP started using tear gas as a crowd control method back in 2010 and they've been collecting this data since then and since they've started using it they've actually used it 126 times so I think as you mentioned in the intro there that this is something that there's the misconception that this was perhaps the first time it had ever been used by CBP. But that's actually not true and you also mentioned they use things like rubber bullets pepper spray the numbers since 2012 are 540 times they've actually used pepper spray and this past fiscal year which was from October 1st of 2017 to September 30th of 2018.

They used it 29 times which is the most times ever in in a fiscal year since they've been recording that data. But again this isn't some sort of new Trump administration policy. They have been using it for eight years.

Does CBP have rules of engagement when it comes to deploying tear gas or is it left to the discretion of the agents on duty.

So they generally refer to policies that they have. But when I asked for a specific policy they declined to give that to me. They did say that they review and evaluate any incident where they use force essentially. I was able to speak to art Del Cueto who is the spokesperson from the National Border Patrol Council and they're actually the labor union that represents CBP and he also is a CBP agent. So let's take a listen to what he had to say about when they decide to use tear gas.

When you think that the attack is not going to stop and you know obviously when it's a bigger crowd that's when you're able to deploy whatever tools are at your disposal.

What he was essentially telling me was that it's a very discretionary thing it's on a case by case basis and really they choose to use whatever tools are available to them depending on the size of the group how much of a threat if things are escalating towards violence. So it's basically up to them and then those incidents are investigated after the fact.

In the 126 incidents the CBP says used tear gas were women and children. Part of the groups trying to rush the border.

We saw on Sunday many of those pictures that were you know really graphic for some people to see but many of them were women and children in that group. I don't think there is any record of you know how many incidents in these 126 since they started using tear gas involved women and children.

So speaking of records does the CBP keep any records on injuries sustained by people from tear gas or other methods they use for crowd control.

So you know I'm Maureen I've been covering this for a few months now and it seems like whenever I asked CBP questions about what happens to people after they're apprehended on the border they'll refer you to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or ice which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So the people who they then you know hand these people who are being alleged with illegally crossing over to so I think unfortunately it's probably hard to keep track of exactly where these people go and what medical injuries sustained. And as we saw with Sunday's case it was actually over the border so they weren't even on United States soil.

Now what does Mexico say about the use of tear gas on its territory by the U.S..

Yeah I think that's really an important question because that's something that you know editorially we've been talking about in the NEWSROOM how would the United States for example reactive Canada and Canada decided to lob tear gas over onto our soil and the Mexican government has in fact called for an investigation into the use of non-lethal lethal weapons including tear gas at the foreign ministry specifically wants answers about you know why those tear gas canister canisters were fired toward towards migrants. So this is a situation where perhaps the Mexican authorities were were not even aware of themselves about how often this was being used.

The White House is apparently supportive of the use of tear gas on migrants. What did the nation have to say.

So we heard Sarah Sanders basically saying that they don't encourage any harm towards children but they do feel that in this situation which is what CBP also said that there were federal agents and personnel who were being assaulted and attacked and because of that they responded with the appropriate level of force to protect themselves and prevent any illegal rush of the border. But one thing Sarah Sanders said which I sort of said before was that she really wanted to emphasize the fact that this was started during the Obama administration and that actually in Obama's second term tear gas was used by CBP 79 different times.

So she wanted to emphasize that this isn't some again some new Trump administration policy.

Has there been to your knowledge any legal action taken on behalf of the migrants who have been injured in tear gas attacks or or rubber bullet attacks.

So as far as I know from this group on Sunday there hasn't been. But as my colleague Jeanne Guerrero has been reporting I think this has definitely instilled a sense of fear in many of the migrants and we're seeing a lot of them actually sign up for buses and decide that you know what. This is not worth it. We don't want to put our families in harm's way and that's why many of them chose to leave where they were coming from but they've decided that based on what they saw on Sunday they're actually going to turn around and go back but it'll certainly be interesting to continue to track this and see if there is any legal action taken on behalf of any of the migrants who may have been injured.

I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Priya Sridhar. Thank you. Thanks.