DANIEL VAUGHAN: It’s not just tear gas. The left opposes all border defenses.

November 30, 2018

The latest news stories about the migrant caravan crisis taking place at America’s southern border have highlighted an increasingly volatile debate: what should be done about lawbreakers at the border?

While the left continues to claim that they don’t support open borders, they seem to be against any — and every — border enforcement action taken by the federal government. Case in point: they’ve now decided that the use of tear gas (on people who were charging the border fence and throwing rocks at border patrol agents) is morally wrong. When pressed on why, they say the use of non-lethal weapons like tear gas and pepper spray is unethical, period.

But they didn’t always feel that way.

The Obama administration’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents used tear gas 1.3 times per month, on average, to disperse unruly migrants at the border. For those counting at home, the last five years of President Barack Obama’s administration saw 79 total incidents wherein tear gas was deployed to disperse rioters at the border.

Snopes went a step further and asked about incidents involving pepper spray. They found that the Obama administration used that method sometimes hundreds of times in a year.

Of course, news organizations have been strangely silent about that. They also have failed to mention the fact that using tear gas and pepper spray is the standard operating procedure for CBP agents on the border.

But this isn’t about pointing out the hypocrisy of only criticizing one of two presidents who used the same operations playbook, though that issue exists. The real problem is that federal agencies like Customs and Border Protection, as well as state and local police forces, have been using non-lethal means of dispersing rioters, mobs, and illegal immigrants for years — but only now that these methods are being used against a (violent) mob of migrants are they problematic.

What the left fails to understand is that the federal government has to enforce the borders somehow. Otherwise, we’ve become a society in which borders are meaningless, and national sovereignty is a thing of the past.

But the New York Times confidently tells us — in the form of a fact-check, no less — that President Donald Trump’s claims that Democrats want open borders are categorically false.

Okay, great. So how should we enforce the border?

Because apparently, the same non-lethal crowd dispersion tactics that have been used across the United States for years are now suddenly, somehow wrong. And if every method proposed to enforce the border is morally unsound, then Trump is right that Democrats must want open borders.

In a way, the debate over border control tactics mimics the gun control debate in this country. Conservatives are told, again and again, that all the left wants is “common sense gun control,” a concept that they say polls exceptionally well with the American public.

But much like saying that the left also wants to simply “secure the border,” the idea of “common sense gun control” is purposely deceptive and vague. And it means something different to everyone.

Moreover, the left’s proposed firearms regulations — like gun owner registrations, background checks, and assault weapons bans — have been proven ineffective at stopping violent crime. Indeed, these “common sense” reforms defy common sense and only increase the power of federal regulators.

Similarly, when it comes to law enforcement the border, the last things liberals seem to want are fair, common sense methods.

The most recent CBP handbook on non-lethal force, which was approved under the Obama administration in 2014 and has not been edited since then, permits the use of “the following less-lethal devices/techniques” by agents: 1) Empty-Hand Strikes; 2) Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Spray; 3) Collapsible Straight Batons (CSB); 4) Electronic Control Weapons (ECW); 5) Compressed Air Launchers; 6) Munition Launchers (e.g., 40mm); 7) Less-Lethal Specialty Impact-Chemical Munitions (LLSI-CM); and 7) Controlled Tire Deflation Devices (CTDD).

I invite anyone on the left to point to that list and find an acceptable use of force to use at the border. These are methods approved by and for the Obama administration. Pick one.

The CBP used tear gas and pepper spray in the present situation. We’ve seen it used in the past. And I don’t think anyone on the left wants the CBP going around throwing empty-hand strikes on migrants.

The government wouldn’t want that either, since it would only escalate an already tense and dangerous situation. And according to CBP data, assaults on federal agents are going up on the border.

So here we sit at an impasse: migrants are at the border, trying to cross illegally and violate the law. These are not all asylum seekers as people on the left like to claim. There are clear lawbreakers as well. And the left wants the CBP to sit on its hands and not use any of the tools they’ve been given to handle riots and unruly crowds.

If the left is not for open borders, like the New York Times claims, then they can’t keep handcuffing our border patrol into inaction. They have to allow the enforcement of the law.

But it’s getting harder to find anyone on the left who is willing to give federal agents any tools to deal with the problem. And until they’re willing to do that, the notion that they are pro-open borders will stick — and for a good reason.


Add your best email address below to start receiving news alerts.

Privacy Policy

Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.