- Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
- The Trump administration floated unsubstantiated claims about a group of migrants who stormed a US port of entry to defend the use of tear gas on a crowd that included women and children.
- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speculated that women and children were a convenient tool for the predominantly male caravan at which US officials launched tear gas.
- Nielsen’s claim comes after President Donald Trump said there were “grabbers” among the migrants who picked up random children as they approached the border to better their chances of entering the US.
- The baseless claims are the latest defense from US officials after the clash spurred widespread backlash as reports described women and children running from tear gas.
The Trump administration floated unsubstantiated claims about a group of migrants who stormed a US port of entry to defend the use of tear gas on a crowd that included women and children.
In a lengthy statement released late Monday night, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed President Donald Trump’s unverified claim that the women and children seen running and screaming as US authorities launched tear gas across a border wall were being used as “human shields” by migrants.
Nielsen said that because the caravan was predominantly male, women and children provided a convenient image for the group.
“It appears in some cases that the limited number of women and children in the caravan are being used by the organizers as ‘human shields’ when they confront law enforcement,” she wrote on Facebook. “They are being put at risk by the caravan organizers as we saw at the Mexico-Guatemala border. This is putting vulnerable people in harm’s way.” Business Insider has reached out to DHS and is awaiting a response.
The comment is similar to a remark made in October by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said the caravan was using women and children as shields in a confrontation that resulted in the group forcing its way into Mexico.
Nielsen also dismissed the events of the clash as “rumors” and “misinformation,” despite widespread reports, photo, and video from the scene.
Rodney Scott, chief of San Diego Border Patrol, also depicted the caravan as a largely male group, announcing that of the 42 people agents arrested after they crossed the border, eight were women. Scott added there were “only a few” children involved.
Nielsen’s unverified speculation came soon after Trump said that he heard some migrants grabbed random children as they approached the border to increase their chances to enter the US.
“In some cases, you know, they’re not the parents,” Trump said at a roundtable event in Biloxi, Mississippi. “These are people, they call ’em ‘grabbers,’ they grab the child because they think they’re gonna have a certain status by having a child. You know you have certain advantages and things with our crazy laws that frankly Congress should be changing.”
When asked for evidence and further explanation, Trump repeated that there were “grabbers.”
Before the demonstration, more than 5,600 migrants were being held in Tijuana’s Benito Juarez Sports Complex, Mexico’s Social Development Secretariat told CNN. Of those, an official estimated there were 3,598 men, 1,041 women, and 993 children.
Reports of mothers and young children with burning eyes running from the tear gas launched by US authorities sparked immediate reactions from civil rights organizations and across social media.
The confrontation came after a migrant caravan group estimated to be in the hundreds stormed the busiest port of entry along the Mexico border Sunday in a planned demonstration.
Chaos broke out as migrants got close to the border agents in riot gear and reportedly attempted to break through barbed wire and metal sheeting.
Children screamed and coughed as clouds of gas spread out across hundreds of yards, the Associated Press reported.
“We ran, but when you run the smoke asphyxiates you more,” Ana Zuniga, a 23-year-old woman from Honduras, told the AP while holding her 3-year-old daughter.
The hits against the caravan are the latest in the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which boiled over earlier this year as Nielsen lead the charge on a zero-tolerance immigration policy that resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents.
Multiple recent reports have suggested that Nielsen is next on the list to be fired from the administration, which Trump advanced earlier this month when he admitted he was considering changes to “three or four or five positions” in his Cabinet.
Trump insisted that he likes and respects Nielsen, but wished she handled the relationship between the US and Mexico differently, which has been identified as a point of tension between the two.
“I like her very much I respect her very much,” Trump said. “I’d like her to be much tougher on the border. Much tougher. Period.”