FILE PHOTO: Maria Meza (C), a 40-year-old migrant woman from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, runs away from tear gas with her five-year-old twin daughters Saira Mejia Meza (L) and Cheili Mejia Meza (R) in front of the border wall between the U.S and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. Picture taken November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The firing of tear gas canisters by U.S. border agents toward migrants in Mexico near a border crossing last month followed regulations, a senior Trump administration official said in testimony to Congress on Tuesday.
On Nov. 25, U.S. border agents fired tear gas to disperse a group of migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border crossing separating Tijuana from San Diego when some rushed through fencing into the United States.
A day after the incident, Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government calling for “a full investigation” into what it described as non-lethal weapons directed toward Mexican territory.
Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees U.S. Border Patrol, said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the use of tear gas was within the agency’s regulations and came as agents faced a “difficult situation.”
The migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border “were assaultive in their behavior, they threw rocks at agents,” McAleenan said, adding that one agent had to have surgery as a result of injuries. McAleenan had earlier said in a statement that four agents were hit with rocks, but that they did not suffer serious injuries.
Women and small children were within the group of migrants exposed to the tear gas, and images of them fleeing the approaching gas sparked outrage.
McAleenan said women and children were “absolutely not” deliberately targeted by agents firing tear gas canisters.
CBP is conducting an internal “use of force” review of the incident, McAleenan said.
Large groups of mostly Central American migrants have sought this year to cross into the United States, and the Trump administration has made efforts to block their entry, including by sending thousands of U.S. troops to the southern border.
Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Steve Orlofsky