Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, issued a forceful defense of her agency’s conduct along the U.S. southern border this weekend, including the use of tear gas against members of a migrant caravan.
The White House had “warned about the danger” facing those hoping to apply for political asylum, Nielsen said.
In a lengthy, nine-point statement posted to Facebook, Nielsen said the violence at the border on Sunday was “entirely predictable.” Hundreds of members of the caravan attempted to circumvent a blockade by Mexican police and run toward the border during a protest, but they were met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who fired tear gas across the border. Several media accounts said parents were forced to flee as their children screamed and coughed due to the chemical agent.
Both DHS and the Mexican government reported that some migrants threw rocks and other projectiles at border agents during the skirmish.
Nielsen, whose agency faced heavy criticism as images of parents fleeing the gas with their children circulated on social media, discounted the presence of kids and said they were merely being used as “human shields.”
“Our Border Patrol agents and officers responded admirably and responsibly to the events on Sunday,” the secretary wrote. “It is a testament to their training and professionalism that no one was injured. The accepted use of nonlethal force (also used by the Obama Administration in 2013) prevented further injury to agents and a mass illegal rush across the border. We will not shy away from protecting our people.”
Nielsen concluded her statement by saying her agency was preparing “for the next assault while looking for lasting solutions with Congress and our Mexican partners.”
“It is time for Congress to do its job,” she said. “Absent Congressional action courts have misinterpreted existing laws and have made the job of law enforcement far more difficult. But the men and women of DHS will continue to do all we can to enforce the law and DHS and U.S. Department of State will continue negotiations with Mexico and our other partners in the region.”
Immediately after the events on Sunday, the secretary moved to defend her agents and cast blame on those seeking to cross the border without permission.
“They attempted to breach legacy fence infrastructure along the border & sought to harm CBP personnel by throwing projectiles @ them,” Nielsen wrote on Twitter late Sunday. “@DHSgov will not tolerate this type of lawlessness & will not hesitate to shut down POEs for security reasons.”
HuffPost has reached out to both DHS and the White House for comment.
Mexican authorities said Sunday that many of those who attempted to approach the border on Sunday had done so peacefully, but said some had behaved in a “violent manner,” according to The Washington Post.
Around 5,000 migrants are currently in limbo in Tijuana, waiting to apply for asylum or determine how they’ll be able to do so under new rules released by the Trump administration. The AP notes that officials are processing fewer than 100 asylum applications per day, just the first step of many before any of the migrants could potentially come to America.
The Mexican government is currently in talks with the White House to sort out details of a new plan that would mandate that asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their applications are pending, a dramatic shift in U.S. policy. Traditionally, anyone applying for political asylum has been allowed to remain in the U.S. while their claims move through the court system, but Trump reportedly despises that policy. The president regularly refers to it in a derogatory tone, calling it “catch and release.”
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that it would be “very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border” and blamed the Democrats for creating “this problem.”
“No crossings!” he wrote.
Nielsen’s tenure has been rocky for months and there’s been rampant speculation that she would be among those to lose their jobs following this month’s midterm elections. The Washington Post reported that Trump planned to fire her in the coming weeks, frustrated with her lack of action to enforce his hardline immigration policy, even after she became the public face of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that saw thousands of children separated from their parents and placed in migrant detention centers.
At the time of the Post’s report, DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton said Nielsen was still “honored to lead the men and women” of the agency and that she was still “committed to implementing the president’s security-focused agenda.”