President Trump has defended as necessary the use of tear gas against migrants at the US-Mexico border on Sunday, claiming that the border agents were forced into action after “being rushed by some very tough people”.
Photos of the incident which have circulated widely online, show US border agents deploying tear gas against a crowd of migrants, including children, after a peaceful migrants’ march in Tijuana descended into chaos at the weekend, with hundreds attempting to breach the barriers separating the US from Mexico.
While President Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have publicly defended the actions of US border agents, Mexico’s foreign ministry has expressed concern about the use of force by US officials against migrants on Mexican soil and has called for an investigation into the incident.
A ‘Very Minor Form’ Of Tear Gas
President Trump has claimed that the form of tear gas used last Sunday was a “very minor form” of tear gas and “very safe”.
In his remarks it is likely that the president is referring CS, or o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, the form of tear gas most commonly used in domestic US law enforcement.
According to the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to CS gas can cause a burning sensation in the eyes and mouth, burns or rashes, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory problems and blindness.
Other more potent versions of tear gas are made from compounds chemically similar to CS, but are less commonly used due to their greater potency. The strongest of these, CR, is banned in the US because it can cause cancer.
Internationally the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits use of tear gas in war, but in many countries use of tear gas is permitted for domestic law enforcement purposes.
Migrant Mother-Of-Five Who Fled Gas Attack Speaks Out
Maria Meza, 39, of Honduras, whose photo was featured in several major newspapers, pictured fleeing the gas with her two daughters, was interviewed by Buzzfeed news in the days after the attack.
She told reporters that she had not been attempting to cross the border at the time, but was caught up in the aftermath as border agents deployed gas canisters into the crowd.
One of her daughters lost her sandals in the mud as they fled along the riverbed of the Tijuana River. Unable to climb the concrete sides of the river, the family were trapped until a passerby was able to lift them to safety.
Meza told Buzzfeed, “I thought my kids were going to die with me because of the gas we inhaled.”