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Another border clash as thousands of migrants wait in Mexico, ‘in limbo’

Chaos erupted again at the U.S.-Mexico border Monday, as border patrol officers fired tear gas at migrants they say were throwing rocks. Meanwhile, other migrants reportedly tried to cross the border. U.S. officials say no children were harmed. For context on this use of force, the level of threat posed by the migrants and their state of being "in limbo," Judy Woodruff turns to Amna Nawaz.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the second time in recent weeks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers fired tear gas yesterday into a crowd of migrants in Mexico.

    The group of about 150 were trying to cross into the U.S. from Tijuana, near San Diego. U.S. officials say some were throwing rocks. Authorities in Mexico have been struggling to accommodate the thousands of people awaiting entry into the U.S., after fleeing violence and unrest in Central America.

    Our Amna Nawaz continues to cover this story, and she joins me now.

    And so, Amna, thank you.

    What exactly happened at the border yesterday?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

    So this was actually late Monday, early Tuesday. We're just getting details last night. But this is what U.S. officials say happened right there.

    There was one group that tried to illegally enter the U.S. by making their way over concertina wire. There was another group that U.S. officials say were throwing rocks at the Border Patrol agents on the other side.

    U.S. officials say they then fired tear gas at those rock throwers, not the other migrants trying to make their way. They used pepper spray, tear gas and smoke. And they say that they were using what they call the minimum force necessary to defend themselves, defend the border and restore order.

    They say no children were affected by the chemical agents. There was some discrepancy about that from reporters on the ground. And, Judy, we don't know anything about those folks who were trying to make their way across the border, whether they applied for asylum, whether they tried to enter, and had been denied.

    We do know these folks are part of that bigger group. We remember the president was tweeting about this caravan. They made their way to the border. They were denied entry. They have to wait in Mexico now.

    And that led to those clashes in November of last year. That was the first time the tear gas had been used against these folks, some of those iconic images, moms fleeing with their kids in diapers away from the tear gas. It's hard to imagine those things are happening on our own border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Pictures so hard to watch.

    So, this use of tear gas is not something that happens often. It's happened, you were telling me today, sometimes before. But why are we seeing it now twice within a short period of time?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, it's important to point out it's not uncommon, right? Law enforcement uses it regularly here. Border Patrol has used it before, even under previous administrations.

    What's unusual is to use it against the same folks who are seeking protection at our border and firing into another country to do that. There's some legal questions around that. And there's questions also just about the appropriate use of force in response to the seriousness of the threat.

    And threat is sort of the key word here, right, because this administration views what's happening down there as a threat, as a crisis. We hear this word again and again. We heard the president today say the border is a sieve.

    It's not really true. Border crossings are at historic lows. We see the president saying, we got to shut down the crossings to stop drugs pouring across the border.

    We know most illicit drugs actually come through legal ports of entry. So there's a narrative of the crisis, and the administration has been responding to it like a crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what are the options right now for the government, for border agents? What do we see happening next year?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, next, it looks like these folks who are on the other side of the border will continue to be held there. They're sort of in limbo. They're stuck in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.

    We know those are being processed relatively slowly. We have heard reports of anywhere from 40 to 100 a day. You're talking about thousands of people who don't know what the future holds for them, who don't have unlimited funds, who are in a dangerous border town, and don't know what the future will hold.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in terms of administration policy, any sign that there's any give there?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we have seen the administration make efforts to narrow some of the asylum paths, right?

    They have tried to say, if you cross illegally, you are not allowed to make an asylum claim. The courts have pushed back against that, because, let's remember, whether you cross legally or illegally, you have a legal rights under U.S. and international law to make an asylum claim and have it heard in our legal framework, whether or not it gets granted in the end.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Amna Nawaz, thank you so much for following the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Of course.

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