by Maria Oswalt
“We aren’t criminals! We’re hard workers!”
According to BBC, this chant erupted among the crowd as the long-awaited caravan of migrants rushed towards the US-Mexico border. They were met with tear gas. US Customs and Border Protection tweeted that some of the migrants were throwing rocks at border patrol agents, so they “deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents' safety.” Parents were seen running away with choking toddlers, says Associated Press Mexico correspondent Chris Sherman.
As images surfaced of these parents and children crying and running away, some responded with anger. Sadness. Calls for justice. Some cheered the decision.
How did we get to this point?
Unfortunately, this scenario is not unprecedented. From Fox News: “In 2013, during the Obama administration, Border Patrol agents used pepper spray to fend off a crowd of approximately 100 migrants who attempted to rush the San Ysidro port of entry. The migrants in that episode also reportedly threw rocks and bottles at U.S. authorities.”
US Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen says that the DHS “will not tolerate this type of lawlessness,” adding: "We will also seek to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who destroys federal property, endangers our frontline operators, or violates our nation’s sovereignty." President Trump has threatened to permanently close the border, and he has given troops on location his approval to use lethal force if needed.
For clarification: the migrants in this caravan are seeking asylum in the United States, which is legal. There is currently no process to apply for asylum while outside the US. They must enter the country first. The Trump Administration has made it clear that they don’t want that to happen. The threats of deportation, family separation, and now lethal force have left asylum-seekers terrified, but have not deterred them. They’re risking it all, facing down both militarized US border patrol agents and troops, in the hopes that they can create better lives for their families in the United States.
At what point do we say enough is enough, that we will no longer allow immigrants to be used as a scapegoat for all our nation’s problems, that “violating our nation’s sovereignty” isn’t a crime punishable by lethal force? It seems we are just playing games with the lives of vulnerable people in order to satiate some sort of xenophobic bloodlust. If this administration cared at all about helping these people immigrate legally, they would have prepared for this caravan by sending legal experts and immigration lawyers to the border. Instead, they sent armed troops.
Now, as I brought up before, I know this didn’t start with President Trump. Xenophobia didn’t enter the White House in 2016. It’s an infection that has been festering for a long, long while, and it’s high time that we stand up and fight it. We have to stop the dehumanization in its tracks. We have to send the message that Americans protect the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all, not just those who are already American citizens.