Concertina wire had been laid, extra border patrol officers had been deployed to the U.S. Mexico border, and ports of entry, “hardened.” Yet, none of it stopped the border clash on Sunday when suffocating tear gas was fired by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials against Central American migrants whose peaceful protest had spiraled out of control.
In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said what happened Sunday was a “routine border protection mission against a violent mob of 1,000 people.” (The Mexican government puts the number at 500).
“This group was predominately male and many were throwing projectiles including rocks and concrete at border patrol agents,” Tyler Houlton, DHS Press Secretary, told members of the media.
But the choking tear gas, known as CS gas, is considered to be a chemical weapon that was outlawed on the battlefield by the United States and other nations in a 1993 agreement. The Chemical Weapons Convention banned the use of chemical weapons in war, and also the production and stockpiling of weapons.
“Those are chemicals that we normally don’t even use in combat anymore. So, this is completely unheard of. And we don’t throw these at people that are trying to seek asylum,” said Mana Kharrazi, executive director of Iranian Alliances across Borders.
However, the use of tear gas is sometimes legal within the confines of the U.S. and may be used by police and federal law enforcement.
American Civil Liberties Union Senior Staff Attorney Carl Takel puts an emphasis on ‘sometimes.’
“The constitutional standard for use of tear gas by domestic law enforcement like other uses of force is the Graham v. Connor ‘objective reasonableness’ standard,” he told VOA. “They cannot use tear gas arbitrarily and without warning…and I have difficulty imagining any circumstance in which it would be permissible to target tear gas canisters at unarmed young children.”