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McGovern Joins Colleagues Demanding Investigation into Use of Tear Gas Against Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border

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Washington, December 7, 2018 | comments
U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Juan Vargas (D-CA) have led a group of 19 members of Congress, including Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA), in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly to urge an investigation into the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agents’ use of tear gas against migrants at the San Ysidro Border Crossing in California on November 25, 2018. In addition, the federal lawmakers express concerns that the action may have been in violation of CBP’s use of force policy and note its impact on Mexican citizens. 

“CBP agents at the San Ysidro Border Crossing responded to this situation by firing tear gas cannisters at the migrants, affecting an unknown number of men, women, and children, including many who did not engage in any violence. This was a severe response. Tear gas is a chemical weapon, whose use on the battlefield is almost universally banned, that causes watering eyes as well as a burning sensation in nasal passages and throats,” the federal lawmakers wrote. “Given the seriousness of this incident, we urge you to promptly investigate and determine whether CBP officers’ actions violated CBP’s Use of Force Policy.”

The letter was also signed by Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Darren Soto (D-FL), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA), André Carson (D-IN), Kathleen M. Rice (D-NY), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Jim Costa (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY).  

The full text of the letter is below: 

Dear Inspector General Kelly, 
 
We write regarding Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents’ November 25, 2018 use of tear gas against migrants at the San Ysidro Border Crossing. We are concerned that the decision to use tear gas may constitute a violation of CBP’s use of force policy, and sets a troubling precedent.   
 
As you may know, the incident occurred in the context of a largely peaceful protest by migrants in Tijuana, many of whom had been waiting days or weeks for an opportunity to lawfully present their asylum claims in the United States. During the protest, some activist individuals approached the United States border, despite efforts by Mexican law enforcement officers to prevent them from doing so. According to CBP’s November 26 statement, some of the individuals engaged in this protest threw rocks and other projectiles; four agents were hit, although none were seriously injured. 
 
CBP agents at the San Ysidro Border Crossing responded to this situation by firing tear gas cannisters at the migrants, affecting an unknown number of men, women, and children, including many who did not engage in any violence. This was a severe response. Tear gas is a chemical weapon, whose use on the battlefield is almost universally banned, that causes watering eyes as well as a burning sensation in nasal passages and throats. According to a November 26, 2018 statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents. A child's smaller size, more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.” 
 
We also note that this event has international implications, since the tear gas crossed an international border and may have affected Mexican citizens. It is important to consider the impact on Mexico, just as we would expect Mexican authorities to consider the impact on the United States before taking similar actions on the Mexican side of the border. The Government of Mexico has also requested an investigation into this incident, and we hope that the Department of Homeland Security will comply with that request. 
 
Given the seriousness of this incident, we urge you to promptly investigate and determine whether CBP officers’ actions violated CBP’s Use of Force Policy. To ensure a proper accounting, we also ask that your investigation include an assessment of the area impacted by the tear gas, since conditions were reportedly windy on the day of the incident. 
 
Thank you in advance for your attention to this important request. 
 
Sincerely,

 
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