“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
What in Hell has happened to us? Who and what have we become?
In the two days since the tear gassing of South American asylum-seekers at our southern border, I’ve tried to find the facts and have deliberately listened to people condemning or supporting the act.
The basic facts seem to be these. The asylum-seekers were massed on the Mexican side. Yes, some broke and ran toward the border fencing and some tried to climb the steel walls. Yes, about 30 were nearly successful getting almost on American soil. Yes, there was some rock-throwing and, yes, several border officers -wearing riot gear and carrying large shields - were hit. None were seriously hurt. Several of their vehicles had some rock damage. Fixable.
Tear gas canisters were fired and/or thrown into Mexico, over the fence and the steel wall. Several hundred asylum-seekers fled. Some were burned by the exploding cans. Some fell to the ground with uncontrollable coughing and choking. All got a heavy dose of gas. Including babies in mother’s arms.
While some can quibble about this or that, those seem to be the basic facts. Which prompts these questions. Who, with a severe case of excess testosterone, gave the order to “fire?” What damned fools, equipped with body armor, full shields and many with sidearms, felt so endangered by unarmed civilians they had to indiscriminately launch tear gas? Why weren’t one or two canisters enough? Why nearly a dozen or so? Why couldn’t those canisters have been fired on the ground and not into the crowd - which they were? Why the border patrol over-reaction as if it were a life-or-death situation?
This is not “Tuesday morning quarter-backing.” I’ve covered marches of 200,000 or more unarmed protesters in which dozens of tear gas canisters were used by armed officers. I’ve been run down and gassed by mounted cops while wearing a large orange press tag and carrying a microphone. That tag made a damned good target.
I participated in tear gas training in the military. Got a severe arm burn. My eyes watered and I coughed for days afterward. Had to burn my fatigues. I’m very familiar with the crowd-control “weapon of choice.”
But, back to the border. We fired projectiles into a sovereign nation. Turn the situation on its head. Suppose a large group of unarmed Americans was marching South from San Diego and tried to force its way into Mexico. From their side of the border, Mexican police fired tear gas into the United States. What would be your reaction? Would you be angry? Would you think of it as an attack? I would.
Cops of all varieties are trained. And retrained. Most receive excellent training. They’ve been equipped with required weaponry. They practice everything from shooting accuracy to crowd control to domestic violence calls. They’re allowed to match various levels of force with increased force as a situation escalates. They know what to do. And when.
I listened to a border patrol officer say he was “following orders” after tear gas was indiscriminately fired into a crowd that included women and children. Babies. Some in wheelchairs. Some seniors. All unarmed. “Following orders.” Last time I heard that was at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. We rejected that argument then and have all these years since. No one is forced to follow an unlawful order.
I don’t know who ordered the forceful repelling. But, I do know who put those law enforcement officers into that awful situation. One Donald J. Trump. Maybe the commander on-site didn’t stop to think whether he was following a “lawful order.” Maybe he thought, “If our orders come from the President, they’re to be obeyed.” Who knows?
Our nation of immigrants and asylum-seekers was created by people seeking a better life, fleeing persecution or who had reason to fear for their lives and those of their families. The latter reason is what’s caused this confrontation. Check the on-line English language newspapers of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. Look at the conditions there. Learn of dictatorships, military control, the political dangers from which these asylum-seekers are fleeing. See for yourself.
The Geneva Convention, adopted internationally in the late 1940's and to which our nation is a signatory, guarantees the right of asylum-seekers to have their cases heard and adjudged. What Trump has done, by his flagrant ignorance of such issues, is short-circuit the legal rights of the people at our border and denied them asylum hearings. These are not migrants - illegal or otherwise. These are people asking this country to observe international laws and their rights. They are guaranteed entry until a court decides the validity of their claims.
This is not the time to argue legal or illegal immigrants. Pure B.S.. That doesn’t apply here. Trump, national media and right-wing fear-mongers to the contrary. The facts are plain. The laws are clear. Which means, by his sick, habitual, serial lying, Trump has made this nation a violator of international law.
And that means his order to repel that crowd in Mexico is not lawful. It should be ignored. Under the Geneva Convention, we are required to allow safe passage, support the needs of these people until they are given their rightful - and guaranteed - day in court. If their claim is upheld, we need to help them in any humanitarian way possible. If the claim is denied, send them back. If there are illegals, send ‘em home.
If we can’t do that, we might as well take that torch off the statue in New York harbor and send it back to France.