The commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where he defended his request for a border wall and fielded criticism from the committee’s Democratic members.
At one point during the hearing, Kevin McAleenan outright rebuked a claim made by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking committee member, who suggested in a question that border agents threw tear gas at children trying to cross the Mexican border into the United States.
“Has CBP ever fired tear gas at young children on the border prior to Nov. 25?” Feinstein asked in her very first question to the commissioner.
McAleenan, however, immediately shot down the framing of her question.
“Just to clarify, senator, we did not fire tear gas at young children on Nov. 25, but yes, CS gas has been used to address large groups seeking to enter unlawfully,” the commissioner answered, going on to recall one incident five years ago where CS gas — a defining component for tear gas — was used against a group attempting to enter the country illegally and included women and children.
Feinstein’s reference to Nov. 25 refers to an incident when migrants attempted to illegally cross the American border near Tijuana, Mexico. These migrants were met by border agents, resulting in a viral photo of a mother and her children running away with tear gas in the background.
“First of all, no, our policy does not authorize tear gassing young children, nor did that happen — just to say that again,” McAleenan repeated after Feinstein asked another question that suggested CPB tolerated such a policy.
Feinstein responded by saying she could show him a picture “that was on CNN” to prove her point.
“It’s very unfortunate that women and children were in the vicinity of this large group that was trying to enter the United States. I don’t know that picture accurately tells the full story of the scope of events on that Sunday,” the commissioner stated.
Initial media reports centered around the viral photo of a mother and her kids seemingly escaping tear gas — becoming a symbolic picture for critics who believe the Trump administration’s immigration policies are too harsh.
However, CBP agents reported that the decision to use tear gas came after many of the migrants threw rocks bottles at them.
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