(CNSNews.com) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents used tear gas 126 times against illegal aliens since 2012, including 79 times between 2012 and 2016 under President Obama.
“On November 25, 1,000 migrants in the caravan ignored and overwhelmed Mexican law enforcement in an attempt to breach our border at port of entry San Diego. Agitators in the group rushed the port, hurtling rocks, bottles, debris, and other projectiles at your officers guarding a fence,” Grassley said while questioning CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan during a CBP oversight hearing.
“In response, the agents deployed non-lethal tear gas to control the agitators and closed the port of entry. As you know, Commissioner, this incident has been criticized and mischaracterized by the media and others, but the use of tear gas isn’t unprecedented,” Grassley said.
He noted that while the number of times CBP agents used firearms decreased since 2012 to a record law in 2018, the number of attacks on CBP agents has increased.
“CBP deployed tear gas a total of 126 times since 2012. That includes 79 times between 2012 and 2016 under President Obama. Nobody wants to see children and women hurt. Nobody wants to see migrants, travelers, or even our agents hurt,” the senator said.
“That’s why I’m happy to hear that your agency’s use of firearm decreased 69 percent since 2012 to a record low this year. Unfortunately, assaults against your personnel has increased 45 percent to 847 times in fiscal year 2017, so I want you to give me—give you an opportunity to explain to the committee and the American people what happened on November 25. So four parts, and I’m going to read all at once so you don’t have to answer short questions,” he said.
“Who initiated the conflict? Did your agency intentionally target women and children? What were the agents’ options, and did this incident deviate from standard protocol, and is there an investigation?” Grassley asked.
McAleenan explained what happened when Border Patrol agents confronted migrants who pushed past Mexican federal police on Nov. 25 and tried to breach the U.S. border.
“November 25th, we faced a dynamic and challenging situation in Tijuana – no question. We had over 1,000 migrants who were marching toward the Mexican side of the port of entry, El Chaparral, and pushed through the federal police, Mexican federal police lines there and then started really a chaotic attempt to enter the U.S. through both the port of entry on the Mexican side and then ultimately through different areas and weak points along the fence line in San Diego sector,” McAleenan said.
“This was a 2 ½-mile stretch of border that large groups attempted to penetrate at multiple points over the course of about a four or five-hour stretch. Importantly, due to the help of the Department of Defense, who put barriers in place in the southbound lanes very quickly after we saw this group forming and push past Mexican federal police, were able to shut down access through the southbound lanes in the United States, so they were deterred and turned around,” he said.
“Unfortunately, they then sought weak points along the fence line, and throughout the next five hours, we saw large groups entering the United States through weak points in the legacy fence that’s actually being replaced right now. Thanks to the investments in fiscal year 17. We’ve already built 33 out of those 40 miles. We’re putting the rest in place now. They were assaultive in their behavior. They threw rocks at agents."
McAleenan said one Border Patrol agent has to have surgery for a dislocated kneecap as a result of rock attacks by migrants.
“We had an agent who now has to have surgery for a dislocated patella. He was hit by a rock during this event, and the agents were in challenging spaces. First the Tijuana River channel, where you’ve seen a lot of photography and video of over 500 migrants who were seeking to enter en masse through that area, and in the border zone, where we have a primary fence and a border fence where there’s very little room to maneuver or back up,” he said.
“So our agents were in a difficult situation. To answer your specific questions, who initiated this contact, it was initiated by some of the agitators and lead organizers of this group. Whether women and children were intentionally targeted with less lethal gas and pepper spray, absolutely not. The agitators who were throwing rocks were the ones targeted,” the commissioner said.
“Whether this was within protocols – yes, in fact in our use of force continuum, pepper spray and CS gas are authorized to address assaultive behavior or even act of resistance, which was certainly occurring in this case. And is there an investigative review? Yes,” he said.
McAleenan said CBP has a use of force review board and a review of the Border Patrol agents’ use of force “is being pursued under the auspices of San Diego sector, requested by Chief Rodney Scott, who oversees the agents involved with support of our National Office of Professional Responsibility and our Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Division.”
The commissioner said “it’s remarkable” that Border Patrol agents “were able to resolve the situation without a serious injury to any of the migrants, without a serious breach of the border by a large group,” and it was “done very professionally.” He said CBP will “take any lessons learned from this review and apply them in the future.”