Tensions along the US-Mexico Border: Using “Lethal Force” against Migrants
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17
On November 25, some 500 migrants, including women and children, attempted to cross the Mexico-US border near the Mexican city of Tijuana. They were repelled by US border patrol agents using tear gas. The Mexican government has declared that those involved in the incident will be deported.
This incident comes at the heels of the Trump administration’s controversial authorization of lethal force, if necessary, by US troops stationed on the border with Mexico. He has similarly increased his rhetoric when referring to the migrants, whom he has labeled as “criminals,” and characterized the caravan as an “invasion.” Such statements do no help defuse the tense situation at the border.
Migrants and Troops
At the time of this writing, reports from the border say that between five and nine thousand migrants from Central America, particularly Honduras, are in Tijuana, camping by the border and at a sports complex. The November 25 incident demonstrates that these people are not willing to wait long until their case is heard by US immigration authorities. (Certain media reports say some migrants are returning to their homeland.)
In response, President Donald Trump deployed over five thousand troops to the border—the mission was originally called Operation Faithful Patriot, but later the Department of Defense labeled it as simply border support. Additionally, military police officers from the port of entry in Texas have been deployed to support Border Patrol agents in the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry in San Diego.
According to CNN, the Pentagon has explained that “the $72 million price tag covers the cost of deploying the approximately 5,900 active duty troops until December 15 and will increase the longer the troops are deployed.” This is quite the price tag to deal with unarmed men, women, and children.
“Rocks as Rifles”
President Trump has shown no reservation regarding how the migrants should be treated. He declared:
Anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican police, where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm… We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle.
This statement was probably a reaction to a photo that has been circulating online which shows a bloody Mexican police officer; violent migrants allegedly injured him. That story has been exposed as a lie as the photo was actually taken in 2012.
Moreover, Newsweek has published a decision memorandum, dated November 20 and signed by President Trump, which states that the deployed military personnel to the border “may perform those military protective activities that are reasonably necessary to ensure the protection and safety of Federal personnel, including a show of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention, and cursory search” (click here for the entire document). The incident last month is an example of US security personnel taking non-lethal actions in response to an attempted stampede by the migrants to cross the border.
The caravan coincided with the US midterm elections; hence, President Trump made it an electoral issue. The US president has characterized the caravan members as “young men, strong men,” many of whom are criminals, according to him. He once stated that there were individuals from the Middle East in the caravan—he would later acknowledge that there was no proof for this accusation.
To be fair, the US Department of Homeland Security reportedly has informants in the caravan, and DHS officials have worked with Mexican authorities to identify them and figure out if any of them have criminal pasts. Authorities should treat such individuals appropriately (including deportation), but President Trump’s stereotypes and lies are a major problem. Similarly, individuals interviewed by Fox News have also said that the migrants have diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and even leprosy. In other words, the men, women, and children of this caravan are evil-incarnated, and they are coming to “invade,” as President Trump tweeted on October 29, the US and spread violence and leprosy. (Did Jesus not treat a leper with kindness rather than hate?)
This type of inflammatory language is not helpful. Rather than engaging with the governments of Central America or the new administration in Mexico, or with the caravan leaders themselves, President Trump has focused on militarizing the border, vilifying the migrants, and threatening US allies—he has threatened to cut financial aid to the Central American nations where the migrants come from.
It is understandable that any nation should refrain from having an open-door migration policy, and should the situation turn more violent at the border, it is correct for military personnel to defend themselves. However, it is certainly not acceptable for any government to spread hate and lies while dealing with a defenseless migrant population.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
Photo Credit: US Customs and Border Protection officials temporarily suspended some operations at the San Ysidro port of entry on November 19, 2018. Lanes were closed to install additional port hardening materials at the port of entry, to include jersey barriers and concertina wire, to prepare for the potential arrival of thousands of people migrating in a caravan heading towards the border of the United States. US Customs and Border Protection photo.