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Jan 3, 19

Through the Tear Gas: Report from the Border

What follows is a report from three autonomous volunteers in Tijuana, as they document the push by asylum seekers to try and cross into the United States on New Year’s Eve.

As their report and video shows, the group, including many children, did not attack Border Patrol with rocks, who were backed up by National Guard, who in turn attacked the unarmed group with a variety of projectile weapons. Stay tuned to This Is America for an audio interview on the assault. 

The week between Christmas and New Years is supposed to be a time of joy, a time to spend with your family, a small break from capitalism and the necessity of work-force education and work-force obligations. We from Moringa, Maiz, y Nopal hope that you enjoyed it and were able to spend time with the people you love.

For us, it was a week of getting to develop a small understanding of the current processes and encampments available for asylum seekers here in Tijuana and across the border in San Diego. On the south side, there are kitchens, there is food, clothes, tents, and blankets. Most basic needs are covered except for a need for battery/solar lights, backpacks, and self expression. There is no work available for asylum seekers, they remain self reliant in many ways, but of course have no real or consistent access to funding or the capitalistic system.

Today is January 2nd; “list managers” help assist their relatives in making it through the illegal numbering system “la lista” by calling out 0–10 numbers each day. Every number is representative of ten people; if you are not there when your name is called, good luck, they say. The system is managed by a composition notebook, and it is corrupted by a group (the Mexican equivalent to ICE) called Grupos Betas. Numbers can, thanks to their illegal infiltration and perpetuation of such a system as la lista, be bought or sold. There are organizations on the ground working to empower people throughout this illegal process and provide information about “las hielerias” or ice boxes, the asylum seeking process in general, and help available on the other side.

The last number called January 2 was 1511, on New Years Day, 0 numbers were called. The last number to be assigned was somewhere around 1900. That means 3,890 people are still waiting to be called for their turn to enter through the port of entry here in Tijuana.

On the night of December 31st, maybe you were somewhere celebrating the Gregorian New Year.

We had used some fundraising to fill in a gap of entertainment at one of the shelters here in town; we planned to show a movie with a projector and small chargeable speaker, hoping it would offer a momentary distraction from the reality of current circumstances, but electricity currents were too low at the shelter to power the DVD player and projector at the same time. We hope to return again with a charged battery that we can plug those devices into.

Every day here we drive home along the double walled, militarized border zone, enforced by razor wire on the north side that reaches up to 7 feet high.

“The only way to seek or request asylum in the US is to make it to the other side.”

Between 10pm and 5am, from December 31, 2018 and into January 1, 2019 more than 100 asylum seekers including children gathered in an effort to beat the illegal list and become capable of claiming asylum on what is considered US soil.

On our way home that night as we drove across that same highway we saw people waiting with hope near a point on the border known as a spot for crossing. We saw children wrapped in emergency blankets, and after rounding a hill we saw plumes of tear gas with more people walking along the highway. This was around 10PM.

(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

We went to get medical supplies and returned. We parked and went to see what was happening, we joined up with those gathered there. We communicated with the folx and they asked us to accompany them and assist, since they had seen the tear gas and wanted us to provide medical assistance (a couple of us are trained as street medics and brought treatment for tear gas).

The Central American folks seeking asylum and cross collectively decided, that even with the risk of being put in danger by crossing this way, it was their best and only option. We want to stress that these folks were families, young men, women and elderly folks – just like us, just like you – everyone simply looking for a better life escaping the violence and poverty that made them flee their home, literally walking and catching rides over thousands of miles.

(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

They decided that the children and families would be prioritized to cross over the fence and surrender themselves to border patrol and make a claim for asylum.

The hundred plus people present had to climb up a hill along the border wall and reach a point safe to cross with no razor wire. As we crept along the wall and were waiting for those at the point to cross, border patrol with the help of two overhead drones assessed what was happening.

“Border Patrol spotting the mass of us, without provocation or warning launched at least three tear gas canisters over the fence.”

These moments were tense, and long. The minutes felt like hours. We had to be as silent as possible; mothers and fathers worked to keep their children quiet, la migra was just on the other side of the metal fence, we could here their engines, they could hear the rocks move beneath our feet. We could all see the fear in all each other’s eyes, so many faces looked down the hill we were inching down with doubt, fear what was about to happen.

Border Patrol spotting the mass of us, without provocation or warning launched at least three tear gas canisters over the fence. The first one was maybe 2 yards in front of us. This forced all of us to flee into a clearing/construction site- we were in the light and it became apparent to border patrol how many of us there were. The people who ran from the gas needed treatment, we got those most affected afar from the gas and administered milk of magnesium. Another group stayed closer to the wall but in sight of border patrol. More border patrol agents arrived. The national guard arrived soon after.

The large group of us fled up hill to escape the smoke, but after that initial attack a dozen or more people returned to the wall determined to keep trying. More people steadily followed suit. The smoke cleared and people regathered to make their stand and demand the right to seek asylum. At first a few, but with numbers the people shook the initial shock off and regrouped at a hill point just up from the fence where no razor wire was laid.

The point on the fence where folks was crossed was prepared and people encouraged the families and each other not be afraid. People called out to each other “No tengas miedo!” “Don’t be afraid!”

The people yelled out to the soldiers and border patrol that they did not want violence, only harmony and jobs, they wanted peace for the new year. A few young men braved the flood lights and leveled rifles and jumped the fence surrounding peacefully to Border Patrol. Families that had retreated from the gas came forward and the children and parents went to the fence to cross and surrender themselves – with hands raised the national guardsmen aimed their rifles on them – we saw red lasers being aimed at them and those of us on the small hill behind the fence. As children were being lifted above the fence, the guardsman assuming command ordered his subordinates to not help the children, one guardsman closer to the fence was obviously conflicted as he saw that the children needed assistance dropping across. We heard one national guardsman repeatedly call out: “Do not help those children.”

Repeat that.

Do not help those children.

That is what homeland security means.

Do not help those children.

The people called out asking why they had their guns out leveled on all of us, leveled on unarmed children, why they tossed the gas, why they hated them so much.

“with hands raised the national guardsmen aimed their rifles on them – we saw red lasers being aimed at them and those of us on the small hill behind the fence.”

Families and children made it across and this gave encouragement to the group – more families and individuals started to come down the hill towards the fence – children were climbing to the point when the U.S launched a tear gas canister directly at them. It was completely unprovoked. Contrary to the Border patrol report the following day. There were no rocks thrown to provoke such an attack. Over the course of the next few minuets between 20 and 30 canisters were fired at all of us.

It was incredibly chaotic, the amount of gas in the air was overpowering – we all retreated helping each other, administering milk of magnesium to disinfect the tear gas, and make sure the families were together. What was terrifying was that where the families that had come down the hill into basically a large ditch was completely drowned in gas and smoke. A mother who had sent her children down was crying out for them, she fainted, people were running blinded by the smoke, gagging and screaming- there was massive confusion to whether or not the children had made it over without their parents, which would be horrible — we know what has been happening to children separated from their parents.

The children were found; a young Honduran man had gotten them out of the smoke- he was shot in the back with a canister as he was carrying them to safety. Those moments, not knowing if the children had been separated, hearing the mother scream out for her two children – only toddlers, as tear gas stung through the air and the blades of a massive drove flew overhead with a blinding spotlight flashed over us all, is how the “New Year” greeted those seeking a better life. We all regrouped away from the smoke – people were dazed and in shock from the gas and the explosions of the canisters.

It needs to be stressed that the narrative that the department of Homeland Security has issued via their official report is false. As with any media reports that describe a situation in which Border Patrol and National Guard were defending themselves against aggressors. This narrative must be stopped, it is a normalization and escalation of violence. The canisters that were launched were knowingly fired at unarmed families and children. We have video that directly contradicts this false narrative. If unchecked these men will undoubtedly escalate violence.

As folks regrouped and recovered along the highway, a group of folks broke off to head to another point – we don’t know what happened to them. The majority stayed along the highway. People were determined to make it across. Despite what occurred no one was ready to give up. But it was apparent that it was not going to happen, at least not here, not now.

We gave out what supplies we had, which was not much but all we had. We organized rides back to the shelters prioritizing the children and families that were still present. It was 5AM. Still, people had to walk what is usually a 40 min drive through the highways of Tijuana.

We began the New Years, with ojos blancos, white eyes, the milk of magnesium the disinfectant for tear gas leaves a white residue along your eyes. Our compañerxs, looked north to the U.S and instead of the land of the opportunity, the supposed “land of the free and home of the brave” they saw men with rifles leveled on their children, they felt the burning gas and smoke of hate.

We don’t know what the repercussions from that night will be, or where we go from here. What we do know is that this type of violence is unacceptable on any and every level. The United States must be held accountable and we must challenge the false narrative that portrays asylum seekers as combative invaders. We know the truth of what happened that night and we hope you share that truth widely so that these voices may be lifted up and heard by all of our hearts

The violence does not end once you get across the border, either. We hear stories about the hieleras, we know that families and babies are being dropped off in the middle of empty concrete parking lots. Dropped off at bus stations; escaping days or weeks in cold detention only to find themselves detained in another way, still struggling, still without a warm or safe place to rest their heads.

We were lucky to meet a woman who is helping tremendously on the other side, the north side of that long and violent wall. This week we ask you to direct any support to her, and the work that she is doing to help secure safe places to sleep, warm clothes, toys for children, and hygiene items for families and individuals.

A link to her GoFundMe: Bridge of Love Across Borders

Thank you for reading and continuing to follow us. Please continue to discuss this with your friends, family and community. We have to be brave in discussing these things and not shy away from the discomfort of these tragic truths.

As always, feel free to email us at [email protected]

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